We attempted to measure diaphragmatic tension by measuring changes in diaphragmatic intramuscular pressure (Pim) in the costal and crural parts of the diaphragm in 10 supine anesthetized dogs with Gaeltec 12 CT minitransducers. During phrenic nerve stimulation or direct stimulation of the costal and crural parts of the diaphragm in an animal with the chest and abdomen open, Pim invariably increased and a linear relationship between Pim and the force exerted on the central tendon was found (r greater than or equal to 0.93). During quiet inspiration Pim in general decreased in the costal part (-3.9 +/- 3.3 cmH2O), whereas it either increased or slightly decreased in the crural part (+3.3 +/- 9.4 cmH2O, P less than 0.05). Similar differences were obtained during loaded and occluded inspiration. After bilateral phrenicotomy Pim invariably decreased during inspiration in both parts (costal -4.3 +/- 6.4 cmH2O, crural -3.1 +/- 0.6 cmH2O). Contrary to the expected changes in tension in the muscle, but in conformity with the pressure applied to the muscle, Pim invariably increased during passive inflation from functional residual capacity to total lung capacity (costal +30 +/- 23 cmH2O, crural +18 +/- 18 cmH2O). Similarly, during passive deflation from functional residual capacity to residual volume, Pim invariably decreased (costal -12 +/- 19 cmH2O, crural -12 +/- 14 cmH2O). In two experiments similar observations were made with saline-filled catheters. We conclude that although Pim increases during contraction as in other muscles, Pim during respiratory maneuvers is primarily determined by the pleural and abdominal pressures applied to the muscle rather than by the tension developed by it.