We compared maturation of the responses of the rib cage [triangularis sterni (TS)] and abdominal [transversus abdominis (TA)] expiratory muscles with each other and with the responses of the diaphragm (DIA) during hypercarbic and hypoxic stimulation. Studies were performed in anesthetized (urethan and chloralose) piglets of two age groups (< 6 days, n = 10; 14-21 days, n = 11) before and after bilateral cervical vagotomy. Hypercarbia (7% CO2-93% O2) was associated with comparable sustained increases in the minute electromyograms (EMGs) of both TS and TA, which were closely coupled to the DIA responses in both age groups. Hypoxia (12% O2-88% N2) caused a biphasic response of the minute EMG of both expiratory muscles and DIA; these biphasic responses were less prominent at 14-21 days than at < 6 days. Vagotomy caused an increase in the amplitude of both TS and TA (38 +/- 30 and 27 +/- 21%, respectively) as well as the DIA (45 +/- 16%) but did not affect their relative responses to chemostimulation. We conclude that during postnatal development 1) the rib cage and abdominal expiratory muscle responses to chemostimulation are coupled to each other and parallel those of the DIA and 2) the presence of vagal afferents attenuates the drive to both inspiratory and expiratory motoneurons under the current experimental conditions but does not influence the relative responses of expiratory muscles and DIA to hypercarbia or hypoxia. We speculate that comparable activation of inspiratory and expiratory pumping muscles serves to stabilize respiratory control in the face of altered chemosensory or vagal inputs during early postnatal life.