Our purpose in this study was to identify different ventilatory phenotypes among four different strains of rats. We examined 114 rats from three in-house, inbred strains and one outbred strain: Brown Norway (BN; n = 26), Dahl salt-sensitive (n = 24), Fawn-hooded Hypertensive (FHH: n = 27), and outbred Sprague-Dawley rats (SD; n = 37). We measured eupneic (room air) breathing and the ventilatory responses to hypoxia (12% O(2)-88% N(2)), hypercapnia (7% CO(2)), and two levels of submaximal exercise. Primary strain differences were between BN and the other strains. BN rats had a relatively attenuated ventilatory response to CO(2) (P 0.05), indicating that the metabolic rate during hypoxia decreased more in BN rats than in other strains. Another strain difference was in the frequency and timing components of augmented breaths, where FHH rats frequently differed from the other strains, and the BN rats had the longest expiratory time of the augmented breaths (probably secondary to the blunted CO(2) sensitivity). These strain differences not only provide insight into physiological mechanisms but also indicate traits (such as CO(2) sensitivity) that are genetically regulated. Finally, the data establish a foundation for physiological genomic studies aimed at elucidating the genetics of these ventilatory control mechanisms.