We hypothesized that CO2, like hypoxia and withdrawal of pulmonary slowly adapting receptor input, would cause tracheal constriction during neural apnea (absence of phrenic activity). In seven anesthetized paralyzed dogs ventilated to neural apnea, we increased arterial PCO2 (PaCO2) in steps by adding CO2 to the inspirate while keeping ventilation constant. Increases in PaCO2 caused tracheal constriction during neural apnea in all dogs; 69 +/- 26 (SD)% of the change in tracheal diameter occurred during neural apnea. Average sensitivity of tracheal diameter to CO2 was 0.44 mm/Torr PaCO2. Our data suggest that central chemoreceptor inputs to brain stem neurons controlling smooth muscle of the extrathoracic airway bypass central mechanisms generating inspiration.