BACKGROUND: Pressure support(PS) is becomimg a widely accepted method of mechanical ventilation either for total unloading or for partial unloading of respiratory muscle. The aim of the study was to find out if PS exert different effects on respiratory mechanics in synchronized intermittent mandatory ventilation(SIMV) and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) modes. METHODS: 5, 10 and 15 cm H2O of PS were sequentially applied in 14 patients(69+/-12 yrs, M:F=9:5) and respiratory rate (RR), tidal volume(VT), work of breathing(WOB), pressure time product(PTP), P(0.1), and T(1)/T(TOT) were measured using the CP-100 pulmonary monitor(Bicore, USA) in SIMV and CPAP modes respectively. RESULTS: 1) Common effects of PS on respiratory mechanics in both CPAP and SIMV modes As the level of PS was increased(0, 5, 10, 15 cm H2O), VT was increased in CPAP mode(0.28+/-0.09, 0.29+/-0.09, 0.31+/-0.11, 0.34+/-0.12 L, respectively, p=0.001), and also in SIMV mode(0.31+/-0.15, 0.32+/-0.09, 0.34+/-0.16, 0.36+/-0.15 L, respectively, p=0.0215). WOB was decreased in CPAP mode(1.40+/-1.02, 1.01+/-0.80, 0.80+/-0.85, 0.68+/-0.76 joule/L, respectively, p=0.0001), and in SIMV mode(0.97+/-0.77, 0.76+/-0.64, 0.57+/-0.55, 0.49+/-0.49 joule/L, respectively, p=0.0001). PTP was also decreased in CPAP mode(300+/-216, 217+/-165, 179+/-187, 122+/-114cm H2O * sec/min, respectively, p=0.0001), and in SIMV mode(218+/-181, 178+/-157, 130+/-147, 108+/-129cm H2O.sec/min, respectively, p=0.0017). 2) Different effects of PS on respiratory mechanics in CPAP and SIMV modes By application of PS (0, 5, 10, 15 cm H2O), RR was not changed in CPAP mode(27.9+/-6.7, 30.0+/-6.6, 26.1+/-9.1, 27.5+/-5.7/min, respectively, p=0.505), but it was decreased in SIMV mode (27.4+/-5.1, 27.8+/-6.5, 27.6+/-6.2, 25.1+/-5.4/min, respectively, p=0.0001). P(0.1) was reduced in CPAP mode(6.2+/-3.5, 4.8+/-2.8, 4.8+/-3.8, 3.9+/-2.5 cm H2O, respectively, p=0.0061), but not in SIMV mode(4.3+/-2.1, 4.0+/-1.8, 3.5+/-1.6, 3.5+/-1.9 cm H2O, respectively, p=0.054). T(1)/T(TOT) was decreased in CPAP mode(0.40+/-0.05, 0.39+/-0.04, 0.37+/-0.04, 0.35+/-0.04, respectively, p=0.0004), but not in SIMV mode(0.40+/-0.08, 0.35+/-0.07, 0.38+/-0.10, 0.37+/-0.10, respectively, p=0.287). 3) Comparison of respiratory mechanics between CPAP+PS and SIMV alone at same tidal volume. The tidal volume in CPAP+PS 10 cm H2O was comparable to that of SIMV alone. Under this condition, the RR(26.1+/-9.1, 27.4+/-5.1/min, respectively, p=0.516), WOB(0.80+/-0.85, 0.97+0.77 joule/L, respectively, p=0.485), P0.1(3.9+/-2.5, 4.3+/-2.1 cm H2O, respectively, p=0.481) were not different between the two methods, but PTP(179+/-187, 218+/-181 cmH2O.sec/min, respectively, p=0.042) and T(1)/T(TOT)(0.37+/-0.04, 0.40+/-0.08, respectively, p=0.026) were significantly lower in CPAP+PS than in SIMV alone. CONCLUSION: PS up to 15 cm H2O increased tidal volume, decreased work of breathing and pressure time product in both SIMV and CPAP modes. PS decreased respiration rate in SIMV mode but not in CPAP mode, while it reduced central respiratory drive(P(0.1)) and shortened duty cycle (T(1)/T(TOT)) in CPAP mode but not in SIMV mode. By 10 cm H2O of PS in CPAP mode, same tidal volume was obtained as in SIMV mode, and both methods were comparable in respect to RR, WOB, P(0.1), but CPAP+PS was superior in respect to the efficiency of the respiratory muscle work (PTP) and duty cycle(T(1)/T(TOT)).