A study was carried out to determine whether variations in the respiration rate during physical exercise could be used as a physiological variable in controlling the rate of an implanted pacemaker. The relation between respiration rate and heart rate was significantly correlated in 73 patients (19 with normal lung function, four with restrictive pulmonary disease, and 50 with obstructive airways disease) during repeated calibrated ergometric tests; no significant differences were found between the subgroups. An external computerised programmable system with algorithm control activated by a radio frequency system was used to vary the cardiac stimulation rate in relation to respiration rate in 11 patients implanted with ventricular inhibited pacemakers. In addition, a prototype programmable pacemaker dependent on respiration rate was implanted in two patients. Maximum values of oxygen uptake, minute ventilation, and work time were increased during the exercise stress tests when the variable cardiac pacing rate was used. Thus respiration rate appears to be a valid and stable physiological variable for controlling the cardiac stimulation rate in order to improve cardiac output in patients dependent on pacemakers.