Six anesthetized paralyzed open-chest New Zealand White male rabbits were studied to obtain the maximal or plateau response to the inhalation of methacholine. Tracheal flow, tracheal pressure, and, by use of alveolar capsules, alveolar pressure were measured during tidal mechanical ventilation. We calculated total lung resistance (RL), tissue viscance (Vti), and lung elastance by digital fitting of the equation of motion to changes in tracheal and alveolar pressure. Airways resistance (Raw) was calculated as RL-Vti. Measurements were made under control conditions and after delivery of increasing concentrations of methacholine aerosol (0.5-128 mg/ml). We found that Vti accounted for the major proportion of RL both under control conditions (64.5 +/- 15.9%) and after methacholine-induced constriction (83.6 +/- 11.8%). There was a significant negative correlation between logarithmic percent change in Raw and Vti at the onset of the plateau response (r = 0.973). Furthermore, the slope of the relationship between log change in Vti and log change in Raw during the plateau response was strongly correlated with the degree of tissue response at the onset of the plateau (r = 0.957). Vti was positively correlated with lung elastance both before and during the plateau response (r = 0.946). We propose that the negative correlation between tissue resistance and Raw at the level of the plateau is consistent with a model of a mechanically interdependent lung, where decreases in airway caliber are limited by the constriction of the surrounding parenchyma.