1. In urethane or Nembutal anaesthetized and artificially ventilated Wistar rats, respiratory neurones of the ventrolateral medulla oblongata were analysed in extracellular (n = 74) and intracellular (n = 43) recordings. 2. Some respiratory neurones were identified as bulbospinal by their antidromic response to spinal cord stimulation at the C4 level. The neurones examined were not antidromically excited by vagal nerve stimulation. 3. Based on their discharge pattern in relation to efferent phrenic and vagal nerve activity, six types of respiratory neurones were classified: early-inspiratory, throughout-inspiratory, late-inspiratory, post-inspiratory, expiratory, and phase-spanning expiratory-inspiratory neurones. 4. Analysis of postsynaptic activities and IPSP reversal following chloride injection revealed post-inspiratory and expiratory inhibition in inspiratory neurones a pronounced early-inspiratory and a relatively weak expiratory inhibition in post-inspiratory neurones, and an early-inspiratory and post-inspiratory inhibition in expiratory neurones. 5. In phase-spanning expiratory-inspiratory neurones the post-inspiratory inhibition was strong and effectively blocked action potential discharge. Expiratory-inspiratory neurones were quite similar to the group of inspiratory neurones, but seemed to receive tonic excitatory inputs not shunted by weak expiratory inhibition. This pre-inspiratory discharge was readily blocked by weak negative DC injection. 6. Under conditions of experimental hypoxia, or long lasting lung inflation and non-inflation, post-inspiratory neurones displayed a second burst of discharge at the end of the expiratory phase in addition to their longer lasting post-inspiratory discharge. 7. We conclude that in the rat the central respiratory rhythm is organized in three (inspiratory, post-inspiratory, expiratory) phases, and that synaptic interaction within the medullary respiratory network of the rat occurs similarly to that described for the cat.