The carotid body (CB) is the main arterial chemoreceptor with a low threshold to hypoxia. CB activity is augmented by A(2)-adenosine receptors stimulation and attenuated by D(2)-dopamine receptors. The effect of aging on ventilatory responses mediated by the CB to hypoxia, ischemia, and to adenosine and dopamine administration is almost unknown. This study aims to investigate the ventilatory response to ischemia and to adenosine, dopamine, and their antagonists in old rats, as well as the effect of hypoxia on adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) accumulation in the aged CB. In vivo experiments were performed on young and aged rats anesthetized with pentobarbitone and breathing spontaneously. CB ischemia was induced by bilateral common carotid occlusions. cAMP content was measured in CB incubated with different oxygen concentrations. Hyperoxia caused a decrease in cAMP in the CB at all ages, but no differences were found between normoxia and hypoxia or between young and old animals. The endogenous dopaminergic inhibitory tonus is slightly reduced. However, both the ventilation decrease caused by exogenous dopamine and the increase mediated by A(2A)-adenosine receptors are not impaired in aged animals. The bradycardia induced by adenosine is attenuated in old rats. The CB's peripheral control of ventilation is preserved during aging. Concerns have also arisen regarding the clinical usage of adenosine to revert supraventricular tachycardia and the use of dopamine in critical care situations involving elderly people.