The general contribution of the cerebellum to hypoxic respiratory responses and the special role of the fastigial nucleus (FN) in the hypoxic respiratory reflex mediated via peripheral chemoreceptors were investigated in anesthetized and spontaneously breathing cats. Seven cats were exposed to isocapnic progressive hypoxia before and after cerebellectomy by decreasing the fractional concentration of end-tidal O2 (FETO2) from 15 +/- 0.3% to 7% while maintaining the pressure of end-tidal CO2 at a constant level of approximately 30 mmHg. Five additional cats inhaled five breaths of pure N2 (transient hypoxia) and received sodium cyanide (50 micrograms iv) before and after thermal lesions of the bilateral FN. The results showed that cerebellectomy or FN lesions failed to alter the respiratory variables (minute ventilation, tidal volume, respiratory frequency, and the peak of integrated diaphragm activity) during eupneic breathing. However, cerebellectomy significantly attenuated minute ventilation (FETO2 < or = 13%) and the peak of integrated diaphragm activity (FETO2 < or = 10%) compared with control. During progressive hypoxia, changes in respiratory frequency were noted earlier (FETO2 < or = 13%) than changes in tidal volume (FETO2 < or = 10%). Similarly, bilateral lesions of the FN resulted in a profound reduction in these respiratory responses to transient hypoxia and sodium cyanide. We conclude that the cerebellum can facilitate the respiratory response to hypoxia and that the FN is an important region in the modulation of the hypoxic respiratory responses, presumably via its effects on inputs from peripheral chemoreceptors.