The respiratory role of neurokinin (NK) receptors was investigated in α-chloralose-urethane-anaesthetized, vagotomized, paralysed and artificially ventilated rabbits by using bilateral microinjections (30–50 nL) of NK receptor agonists and antagonists. Microinjections were performed in a region located just caudal to the rostral expiratory neurons. This region displayed features similar to those of the pre-Bötzinger complex (pre-BötC) of adult cats and rats, and proved to produce excitatory respiratory effects in response to microinjections of d,l-homocysteic acid. We used as agonists (0.1, 0.5 and 5 mm) substance P (SP), the NK1 receptor agonists [Sar9, Met(O2)11]-SP and GR 73632, the NK2 receptor agonist NKA, the NK3 receptor agonist senktide, and as antagonists (5 mm) the NK1 receptor antagonist CP-99,994 and the NK2 receptor antagonist MEN 10376. SP always increased respiratory frequency, but NK1 receptor agonists did not change respiratory variables. NKA and senktide at 5 mm increased respiratory frequency. CP-99,994 caused increases in respiratory frequency and did not antagonize the effects of SP. MEN 10376 prevented the respiratory responses induced by NKA and reduced those provoked by SP. SP or the NK1 receptor agonists (5 mm) injected (1 μL) into the IV ventricle caused marked excitatory effects on respiration. The results suggest that NK2 and NK3, but not NK1, receptors are involved in the excitatory modulation of inspiratory activity within the investigated region and are consistent with the notion that the pre-BötC neurons are important components of the inspiratory rhythm-generating mechanisms.