BACKGROUND--Temporary occlusion of one mainstem bronchus permits measurement of single lung function. A previous study suggested that the volume at which one lung is occluded may influence the expansion of the other. The effect of ipsilateral occlusion volume on the contralateral effective alveolar volume (VA, EFF,SL), inspired volume (VI,SL), single breath estimated residual volume (RVSB,SL), carbon monoxide (CO) transfer (TLCO,SL) and transfer coefficient (KCO,SL) has been examined. METHODS--Single breath measurements of CO transfer were made in duplicate in 12 healthy subjects aged 19-44 years, without and during occlusion of one mainstem bronchus by a balloon at RV and at total lung capacity (TLC). RESULTS--Mean VA,EFF,SL, VI,SL, and TLCO,SL were lower during occlusion at RV than during occlusion at TLC (2.84 v 3.26 l; 2.18 v 2.54 l; and 4.70 v 5.51 mmol/kPa/min respectively). RVSB,SL was independent of occlusion volume and KCO,SL not different from the KCO of both lungs (KCO,BL). Single lung values during occlusion at TLC were fairly reproducible and were, except for KCO,SL, approximately half the values for both lungs. During occlusion at RV the second TLCO,SL and KCO,SL were lower than the first. CONCLUSIONS--Occlusion of one lung permits reliable determinations of gas transfer indices of the other, provided the lung is occluded at TLC. Occlusion at RV significantly reduces VA,EFF,SL, and hence TLCO,SL, but does not affect KCO,SL of the other lung.