Are different forms of breathing derived from one or multiple neural networks? We demonstrate that brainstem slices containing the pre-Bötzinger complex generated two rhythms when normally oxygenated, with striking similarities to eupneic ('normal') respiration and sighs. Sighs were triggered by eupneic bursts under control conditions, but not in the presence of strychnine (1 microM). Although all neurons received synaptic inputs during both activities, the calcium channel blocker cadmium (4 microM) selectively abolished sighs. In anoxia, sighs ceased, and eupneic activity was reconfigured into gasping, which like eupnea was insensitive to 4 microM cadmium. This reconfiguration was accompanied by suppression of synaptic inhibition. We conclude that a single medullary network underlies multiple breathing patterns.