Catecholaminergic neurons of the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM-CA neurons; C1 neurons) contribute to the sympathetic, parasympathetic and neuroendocrine responses elicited by physical stressors such as hypotension, hypoxia, hypoglycemia, and infection. Most RVLM-CA neurons express vesicular glutamate transporter (VGLUT)2, and may use glutamate as a ionotropic transmitter, but the importance of this mode of transmission in vivo is uncertain. To address this question, we genetically deleted VGLUT2 from dopamine-β-hydroxylase-expressing neurons in mice [DβHCre/0;VGLUT2flox/flox mice (cKO mice)]. We compared the in vivo effects of selectively stimulating RVLM-CA neurons in cKO vs. control mice (DβHCre/0), using channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2–mCherry) optogenetics. ChR2–mCherry was expressed by similar numbers of rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM) neurons in each strain (~400 neurons), with identical selectivity for catecholaminergic neurons (90–99% colocalisation with tyrosine hydroxylase). RVLM-CA neurons had similar morphology and axonal projections in DβHCre/0 and cKO mice. Under urethane anesthesia, photostimulation produced a similar pattern of activation of presumptive ChR2-positive RVLM-CA neurons in DβHCre/0 and cKO mice. Photostimulation in conscious mice produced frequency-dependent respiratory activation in DβHCre/0 mice but no effect in cKO mice. Similarly, photostimulation under urethane anesthesia strongly activated efferent vagal nerve activity in DβHCre/0 mice only. Vagal responses were unaffected by α1-adrenoreceptor blockade. In conclusion, two responses evoked by RVLM-CA neuron stimulation in vivo require the expression of VGLUT2 by these neurons, suggesting that the acute autonomic responses driven by RVLM-CA neurons are mediated by glutamate.