We review a new unified model of respiratory rhythm generation - the hybrid pacemaker-network model. This model represents a comprehensive synthesis of cellular and network mechanisms that can theoretically account for rhythm generation in different functional states, from the most reduced states in the neonatal nervous system in vitro to the intact adult system in vivo. The model incorporates a critical neuronal kernel consisting of a network of excitatory neurons with state-dependent, oscillatory bursting or pacemaker properties. This kernel, located in the pre-Bötzinger complex of the ventrolateral medulla, provides a rudimentary pacemaker network mechanism for generating an inspiratory rhythm, revealed predominately in functionally reduced states in vitro. In vivo the kernel is embedded in a larger network that interacts with the kernel via inhibitory synaptic connections that provide the dynamic control required for the evolution of the complete pattern of inspiratory and expiratory network activity. The resulting hybrid of cellular pacemaker and network properties functionally endows the system with multiple mechanisms of rhythm generation. New biophysically realistic mathematical models of the hybrid pacemaker-network have been developed that illustrate these concepts and provide a computational framework for investigating interactions of cellular and network processes that must be analyzed to understand rhythm generation.