Possible opiate-related descending influences from the periaqueductal gray matter (PAG) and nucleus raphe magnus (NRM) were tested on the activity of neural systems involved in respiration and related reflex functions in cats. Stimulation of PAG and NRM could powerfully suppress the simple buccopharyngeal reflexes of jaw-opening and tongue-protrusion and the more complex reflexes of coughing and swallowing; respiration in contrast appeared to be only weakly influenced. The reflexly induced responses of 57 single reflex interneurons recorded in the solitary tract nucleus (NST) could also be markedly suppressed by PAG and NRM conditioning stimulation. In contrast, the rhythmic activity of 30 respiratory neurons in NST was not abolished by PAG and NRM stimuli but most did show a decrease in the peak firing frequency of each rhythmic burst. The suppressive effect of PAG and NRM stimulation on the reflexes and NST reflex interneurons could be reduced by the intravenous administration of naloxone. These studies indicate that neuronal functions associated with respiration and respiratory-related activities can be suppressed by descending influences from PAG and NRM that are in part opiate-related. The observations add to the accumulating evidence that the raphe system is implicated in functions other than pain and its control, and they may also be relevant to clinical observations of opiate-induced effects on respiration and the cough reflex.