Chemosensitive (CS) neurons are found in discrete brainstem regions, but whether the CS response of these neurons is due to intrinsic chemosensitivity of individual neurons or is mediated by changes in chemical and/or electrical synaptic input is largely unknown. We studied the effect of synaptic blockade (11.4 mM Mg2+/0.2mM Ca2+) solution (SNB) and a gap junction uncoupling agent carbenoxolone (CAR--100 microM) on the response of neurons from two CS brainstem regions, the NTS and the LC. In NTS neurons, SNB decreased spontaneous firing rate (FR). We calculated the magnitude of the FR response to hypercapnic acidosis (HA; 15% CO2) using the Chemosensitivity Index (CI). The percentage of NTS neurons activated and CI were the same in the absence and presence of SNB. Blocking gap junctions with CAR did not significantly alter spontaneous FR. CAR did not alter the CI in NTS neurons and resulted in a small decrease in the percentage of activated neurons, which was most evident in NTS neurons from rats younger than postnatal day 10. In LC neurons, SNB resulted in an increase in spontaneous FR. As with NTS neurons, SNB did not alter the percentage of activated neurons or the CI in LC neurons. CAR resulted in a small increase in spontaneous FR in LC neurons. In contrast, CAR had a marked effect on the response of LC neurons to HA: a reduced percentage of CS LC neurons and decreased CI. In summary, both NTS and LC neurons appear to contain intrinsically CS neurons. CS neurons from the two regions receive different tonic input in slices (excitatory for NTS and inhibitory for LC); however, blocking chemical synaptic input does not affect the CS response in either region. In NTS neurons, gap junction coupling plays a small role in the CS response, but gap junctions play a major role in the chemosensitivity of many LC neurons.