Previous investigators (van Lunteren et al. J. Appl. Physiol. 62: 582-590, 1987) have suggested that the geniohyoid and sternohyoid muscles may act as upper airway dilators in the cat. To investigate the effect of geniohyoid and sternohyoid contraction on inspiratory upper airway resistance (UAR), we studied five adult male cats anesthetized with ketamine and xylazine during spontaneous room-air breathing. Inspiratory nasal airflow was measured by sealing the lips and constructing a nose mask. Supraglottic pressure was measured using a transpharyngeal catheter placed above the larynx. Mask pressure was measured using a separate catheter. Geniohyoid and sternohyoid lengths were determined by sonomicrometry. Geniohyoid and sternohyoid contraction was stimulated by direct muscle electrical stimulation with implanted wire electrodes. Mean inspiratory UAR was determined for spontaneous breaths under three conditions: 1) baseline (no muscle stimulation), 2) geniohyoid contraction alone, and 3) sternohyoid contraction alone. Geniohyoid contraction alone produced no significant reduction in inspiratory UAR [unstimulated, 17.75 +/- 0.86 (SE) cmH2O.l-1.s; geniohyoid contraction, 19.24 +/- 1.10]. Sternohyoid contraction alone also produced no significant reduction in inspiratory UAR (unstimulated, 15.74 +/- 0.92 cmH2O.l-1.s; sternohyoid contraction, 14.78 +/- 0.78). Simultaneous contraction of the geniohyoid and sternohyoid muscles over a wide range of muscle lengths produced no consistent change in inspiratory UAR. The geniohyoid and sternohyoid muscles do not appear to function consistently as upper airway dilator muscles when UAR is used as an index of upper airway patency in the cat.