Active, nonanesthetized, tracheotomized rabbits were subjected to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for 4 days to determine the effects of chronic mechanical strain on lung and airway function. Rabbits were maintained for 4 days at a CPAP of 6 cmH2O (high CPAP), at a CPAP of 0 CmH2O (low CPAP), or without tracheostomy (no CPAP). After treatment with CPAP, changes in respiratory resistance in response to increasing concentrations of inhaled ACh were measured during mechanical ventilation to evaluate respiratory system responsiveness in vivo. Intraparenchymal bronchial segments were isolated from the lungs of all animals to evaluate airway smooth muscle responsiveness and bronchial compliance in vitro. Rabbits maintained for 4 days at high CPAP demonstrated significantly lower responsiveness to ACh compared with rabbits that were maintained at low CPAP or with no CPAP. Airways isolated from the lungs of animals subjected to the chronic application of high CPAP were also less responsive to ACh in vitro than the airways isolated from animals subjected to low CPAP or no CPAP. The persistence of the decreased responsiveness in the excised airway tissues suggests that the decreased respiratory system responsiveness observed in vivo results primarily from direct effects on the airways. The results demonstrate that the application of prolonged mechanical strain in vivo can reduce airway reactivity. Copyright © 2005 the American Physiological Society.