In the present study, respiratory drives to chemical stimuli and peripheral chemosensitivity were evaluated in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSAS). The effects of oral administration of domperidone, a selective dopamine D2-receptor antagonist, were also examined, to study the respiratory effects of endogenous dopamine on peripheral chemoreceptors. Sixteen patients with OSAS and nine normal control subjects were studied. Respiratory responses to hypercapnia and hypoxia were measured using the rebreathing method and isocapnic progressive hypoxia method, respectively. The hypoxic withdrawal test, which measures the decrease in ventilation caused by two breaths of 100% O2 under mild hypercapnic hypoxic conditions (end-tidal oxygen and carbon dioxide tensions approximately 8.0 kPa and 5.3-6.7 kPa, respectively), was used to evaluate peripheral chemosensitivity. In the patients with OSAS, ventilatory responses to hypercapnia and hypoxia were significantly decreased compared with those of control subjects. Hypoxic withdrawal tests showed that peripheral chemosensitivity was significantly lower in patients with OSAS than in normal subjects. Hypercapnic ventilatory response and peripheral chemosensitivity were enhanced by administration of domperidone in the patients with OSAS, although no changes in either of these were observed in the control subjects. The hypoxic ventilatory response and peripheral chemosensitivity in the patients with OSAS were each significantly correlated with severity of hypoxia during sleep. These findings suggest that peripheral chemosensitivity in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome may be decreased as a result of abnormality in dopaminergic mechanisms and that the reduced chemosensitivity observed in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome may affect the severity of hypoxia during sleep.