Previous studies have shown that neurons in addition to those in the medullary respiratory groups are involved in activating phrenic motoneurons during a number of behaviors, including vomiting and reaction to vestibular stimulation. However, the location of premotor inspiratory neurons outside of the main medullary respiratory groups is largely unknown, particularly in emetic species. In the present study, the transneuronal tracer pseudorabies virus was injected into the diaphragm of the ferret, and the locations of retrogradely-labeled motoneurons and transneuronally-labeled pre-motoneurons in the brainstem and cervical and thoracic spinal cord were mapped. Injections of a monosynaptic tracer, cholera toxin, were also made in order to verify the location of motoneurons innervating the diaphragm. Phrenic motoneurons identified with pseudorabies virus and cholera toxin were confined largely to the C5-C7 levels of spinal cord, and often gave rise to prominent polarized dendritic arbors that extended across the midline. At post-inoculation survival times > or = three days, transneuronally-labeled interneurons were located in the cervical and thoracic spinal cord and portions of the brainstem, including the midline pontomedullary reticular formation and the lateral medullary reticular formation. Double-labeling studies revealed that although the infected midline neurons were located in the proximity of serotonergic neurons, only a small number of the virus-containing cells were positive for serotonin. These findings suggest that neurons in the midline of the medulla and pons influence the activity of phrenic motoneurons, perhaps during inspiratory behaviors unique to emetic animals (such as vomiting).