The relationship between tidal volume (VT) and inspiratory duration (TI) displays biphasic characteristics during progressive hypercapnia in humans: an initial phase in which VT increases while TI remains constant (region I) and a subsequent phase with reciprocal decreases of TI as VT continues to increase (region II). Region II behavior is generally attributed, albeit inferentially, to lung volume-mediated inflation inhibition (Breuer-Hering reflex). To investigate this phenomenon, we compared CO2 responses of 10 heart-lung transplant recipients (HL) with normal pulmonary function tests and 13 normal controls. Despite pulmonary denervation, the HL exhibited region II behavior identical to controls. In four additional HL with pulmonary restriction, there were comparative decreases of the region II slope (P < 0.05), but the absolute VT where the phase change between regions occurred was indistinguishable from the other groups. We conclude that TI shortening in humans during progressive hypercapnia occurs in the absence of pulmonary reflexes. The consistency of the VT associated with phase changes, despite pulmonary denervation, suggests that the stimulus for this behavior is volume displacement of extrapulmonary respiratory structures.