We applied high-frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) of low amplitude to the pleural surface of the isolated rat lung (IPL) perfused at 10 ml.min-1 with Krebs bicarbonate containing 4.5% albumin (hematocrit 34%). Lung volume was held constant by a continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) of 5 cmH2O. Varying CPAP from 2 to 15 cmH2O did not affect O2 uptake. Tidal volume (VT) was estimated with an impedance pneumograph, and it bore a direct linear relationship to the amplitude of both the loudspeaker input signal and the pressure change in the chamber up to 30 Hz; VT was inversely proportional to the frequency (f). However, at a constant loudspeaker input of 10 V, minute expired ventilation V̇E) remained constant (mean 104 ml.min-1) as f increased from 5 to 30 Hz. Hemoglobin saturation increased by more than 80% during HFOV of 5-40 Hz and amplitude of 10 V, the maximum O2 uptake being 14.6 ml O2 per 100 ml perfusate. Whereas dead space was approximately 335 μl, a VT of less than 40 μl could effect normal O2 uptake, suggesting that bulk flow is playing only a minor role in gas exchange. HFOV for 60 min (CPAP 5 cmH2O) did not affect the amount of alveolar surfactant compared with conventional ventilation at the same mean airway pressure. We conclude that normal O2 uptake can be maintained by applying HFOV to the pleural surface of the IPL held at constant volume.