We employed high-speed multisliced X-ray-computed tomography to determine the relative volume contributions of rib cage (delta Vrc) and diaphragmatic motion (delta Vdi) to tidal volume (VT) during spontaneous breathing in 6 anesthetized dogs lying supine. Mean values were 40 +/- 6% (SE) for delta Vrc and 62 +/- 8% of VT for delta Vdi. The difference between VT and changes in thoracic cavity volume was taken to represent a change in thoracic blood volume (2 +/- 3% of VT). To estimate how much of delta Vrc was caused by diaphragmatic contraction and how much of delta Vdi was caused by rib cage motion, delta Vrc and delta Vdi were determined during bilateral stimulation of the C5-C6 phrenic nerve roots in the apneic dog and again during spontaneous breathing after phrenicotomy. Thoracic cavity volume (Vth) measured during hypocapnic apnea was consistently larger than Vth at end expiration, suggesting that relaxation of expiratory muscles contributed significantly to both delta Vrc and delta Vdi during spontaneous inspiration. Phrenic nerve stimulation did not contribute to delta Vrc, suggesting that diaphragmatic contraction had no net expanding action on the rib cage above the zone of apposition. Spontaneous breathing after phrenicotomy resulted in small and inconsistent diaphragmatic displacement (8 +/- 4% of VT). We conclude that the diaphragm does not drive the rib cage to inflate the lungs and that rib cage motion does not significantly affect diaphragmatic position during spontaneous breathing in anesthetized dogs lying supine.