Substance P and neurokinin-1 receptors (NK1) modulate the respiratory activity and are expressed early during development. We tested the hypothesis that NK1 receptors are involved in prenatal development of the respiratory network by comparing the resting respiratory activity and the respiratory response to hypoxia of control mice and mutant mice lacking the NK1 receptor (NK1-/-). In vitro and in vivo experiments were conducted on neonatal, young and adult mice from wild-type and NK1-/- strains. In the wild strain, immunohistological, pharmacological and electrophysiological studies showed that NK1 receptors were expressed within medullary respiratory areas prior to birth and that their activation at birth modulated central respiratory activity and the membrane properties of phrenic motoneurons. Both the membrane properties of phrenic motoneurons and the respiratory activity generated in vitro by brainstem-spinal cord preparation from NK1-/- neonate mice were similar to that from the wild strain. In addition, in vivo ventilation recordings by plethysmography did not reveal interstrain differences in resting breathing parameters. The facilitation of ventilation by short-lasting hypoxia was similar in wild and NK1-/- neonates but was significantly weaker in adult NK1-/- mice. Results demonstrate that NK1 receptors do appear to be necessary for a normal respiratory response to short-lasting hypoxia in the adult. However, NK1 receptors are not obligatory for the prenatal development of the respiratory network, for the production of the rhythm, or for the regulation of breathing by short-lasting hypoxia in neonates.