To better understand the mechanisms underlying maxillary sinus function, the gas composition of the sinus antrum in spontaneously breathing and tracheotomized rabbits (n = 17) was compared. The gas composition of samples (n = 117) obtained from rabbit maxillary sinuses was determined by gas chromatography. Results demonstrated significant differences (P<.005) in sinus gas composition between nasal breathing and tracheotomized animals for oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). In tracheotomized animals O2 levels decreased while CO2 levels increased markedly to suprasystemic levels. This unexpected finding may be due to reduced sinus blood flow and the effects of nasal versus tracheal respiration. We conclude that the gaseous dynamics and perhaps the function of the maxillary sinus vary under different respiratory conditions. A better understanding of these processes may lead to earlier diagnosis and the development of improved treatments for sinus disease.