Inspiratory breathing movements depend on pre-Bötzinger complex (preBötC) interneurons that express calcium (Ca2+)-activated nonselective cationic current (ICAN) to generate robust neural bursts. Hypothesized to be rhythmogenic, reducing ICAN is predicted to slow down or stop breathing; its contributions to motor pattern would be reflected in the magnitude of movements (output). We tested the role(s) of ICAN using reverse genetic techniques to diminish its putative ion channels Trpm4 or Trpc3 in preBötC neurons in vivo. Adult mice transduced with Trpm4-targeted short hairpin RNA (shRNA) progressively decreased the tidal volume of breaths yet surprisingly increased breathing frequency, often followed by gasping and fatal respiratory failure. Mice transduced with Trpc3-targeted shRNA survived with no changes in breathing. Patch-clamp and field recordings from the preBötC in mouse slices also showed an increase in the frequency and a decrease in the magnitude of preBötC neural bursts in the presence of Trpm4 antagonist 9-phenanthrol, whereas the Trpc3 antagonist pyrazole-3 (pyr-3) showed inconsistent effects on magnitude and no effect on frequency. These data suggest that Trpm4 mediates ICAN, whose influence on frequency contradicts a direct role in rhythm generation. We conclude that Trpm4-mediated ICAN is indispensable for motor output but not the rhythmogenic core mechanism of the breathing central pattern generator.