We analyzed the membrane potential of 161 respiratory neurons in the medulla of decerebrate rats which were paralyzed and ventilated. Three types of inspiratory (I) neurons were observed: those displaying progressive depolarization in inspiration (augmenting I neurons), those which gradually repolarized after maximal depolarization at the onset of inspiration (decrementing I neurons) and those exhibiting a plateau or bell-shaped membrane potential trajectory throughout inspiration (I-all neurons). Three types of expiratory (E) neurons were also encountered: those in which the membrane potential progressively depolarized (augmenting E neurons), those in which the membrane potential repolarized during the interval between phrenic bursts (decrementing E or post-I neurons) and those exhibiting a plateau or bell-shaped membrane potential trajectory throughout expiration (E-all neurons). Axonal projections of these medullary neurons were identified in the cranial nerves (n = 34), or in the spinal cord (n = 19) as revealed by antidromic stimulation and/or by reconstruction following horseradish peroxidase (HRP) labeling. The other 108 neurons were not antidromically activated (NAA) by the stimulations tested, or had their axons terminating inside the medulla as revealed by HRP labeling. All these respiratory neurons, except for 3 which were hypoglossal motoneurons, had their somata within the ventrolateral medulla, in the region of the nucleus ambiguus, homologous to the ventral respiratory group (VRG) of the cat. No dorsal respiratory group (DRG) was detected within the medulla of the rats. Due to this absence of a DRG, it is concluded that the neural organization of respiratory centers is quite different in cats and rats.