We reported earlier on the changes in excitability of central respiratory switching mechanisms in the course of a brief inspiratory-inhibiting vagal stimulus (J. Appl. Physiol. 50: 1183-1192, 1981). To further define the dynamics of central processing of such input we studied the changes in the excitability of timing mechanisms in the immediate (less than 1.0 s) and late (1-20 s) periods after stimulus removal. We also examined the changes in respiratory timing in the course of protracted (greater than 20 s) stimulation. Studies were done using pentobarbital-anesthetized cats. For studies involving long-term stimulation or late off responses, cats were paralyzed, vagotomized, carotid denervated, and artificially ventilated. We found that the inspiratory inhibitory influence of a brief stimulus continues, in a declining fashion, for 0.3-10 s after removal of the stimulus. This was followed by a paradoxical response, inspirations were prolonged and expirations were shortened, which was maximal 1-2 s after stimulus removal and which declined gradually over a period of 6-16 s. There was progressive decline in inspiratory-shortening expiratory-prolonging influence in the course of sustained stimuli. These results indicate substantial adaptation in the course of even brief stimuli and provide an explanation for inspiratory-expiratory duration and expiratory-inspiratory duration linkages.