To investigate the influence of positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) on hemodynamic measurements we examined the transmission of airway pressure to the pleural space during varying conditions of lung and chest wall compliance. Eight ventilated anesthetized dogs were studied in the supine position with the chest closed. Increases in pleural pressure were similar for both small and large PEEP increments (5-20 cmH2O), whether in the esophagus (Pes) or in the juxtacardiac space by a wafer sensor (Pj). Increments in Pj exceeded the increments in Pes at all levels of PEEP and under each condition of altered lung and chest wall compliance. When chest wall compliance was reduced by thoracic and abdominal binding, the fraction of PEEP sensed in the pleural space increased as theoretically predicted. Acute edematous lung injury produced by oleic acid (OA) did not alter the deflation limb pressure-volume characteristics of the lung, provided that end-inspiratory volume was adequate. With the chest and abdomen restricted OA was associated with less than normal transmission of airway pressure to the pleural space, most likely because the end-inspiratory volume required to restore normal deflation characteristics was not attained. Together these results indicate that the influence of acute edematous lung injury on the transmission of airway pressure to the pleural space depends importantly on the peak volume achieved during inspiration.