To clarify the role of vagal afferents from the lung in the sensation of dyspnea, we examined the effects of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) inhalation on the sensation of dyspnea during exercise in eight normal male subjects. This intervention was chosen because inhaled PGE2 is known to stimulate vagal afferent receptors in the lung, in particular C-fiber endings, without a significant increase in airway resistance. After either physiologic saline or PGE2 aerosol (100 micrograms/ml) inhalation through a Bird nebulizer for 2 min, exercise tests were performed on a bicycle ergometer. The tests consisted of 3 min at rest followed by graded work loads (zero to 150 watts, 50-watt increments). Minute ventilation (VE) and respiratory rate were monitored from an expiratory line through a face mask. Oxygen consumption (VO2) and carbon dioxide production (VCO2) were calculated from samples of mixed expired gas. The sensation of difficulty in breathing (dyspnea) was measured on a modified Borg scale at rest and at the end of each work load. We found that although airway resistance and lung volume did not change significantly between saline and PGE2 inhalations, inhaled PGE2 significantly increased the magnitude of the dyspneic sensation when compared with inhaled saline at the same levels of work load, ventilation, and oxygen consumption. These results suggest that in addition to probable roles of motor command and chemical drive, afferent vagal activity from the lung also contributes to the sensation of dyspnea during exercise.