The alveolar-arterial oxygen partial pressure difference (AaDO2) and the arterial/alveolar oxygen partial pressure ratio (a/APO2) were compared for stability when inspired oxygen concentration (FIO2) changed. The analysis was based on a three-compartment lung model and experimental results in 10 patients with respiratory failure receiving assisted ventilation. It was found that a/APO2 was more stable than AaDO2 and more useful for: (1) comparing gas exchange in patients receiving different levels of FIO2, (2) following gas exchange in the same patient as FIO2 is changed, and (3) estimating the PaO2 expected at a given level of FIO2 if blood gas data are available at another level. However, areas with low ventilation/perfusion (V/Q) ratios may cause sudden changes in a/APO2 at certain critical values of PAO2. Most stable is a/APO2 and, therefore, most useful at FIO2 levels greater than 0.3, and PaO2 levels less than 100 torr.