Multiple brainstem sites are proposed to contribute to central respiratory chemosensitivity, however, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain unknown. P2X2 subunit-containing ATP receptors, which mediate pH-sensitive currents, appear to contribute to central chemosensitivity in vivo [J. Physiol. 523 (2000) 441]. However, recent data from P2X2 knockout mice [J. Neurosci. 23 (2003) 11315] indicate that they are not essential. To further explore the role of P2 receptors in central chemosensitivity, we examined the effects of P2 receptor agonists/antagonists on respiratory-related activity and CO2-sensitivity of rhythmically-active in vitro preparations from neonatal rat. Our main findings: (i) that putative chemosensitive regions of the ventrolateral medulla are immunoreactive for the P2X2 subunit; (ii) that ATP potentiates respiratory frequency in a dose-dependent, and PPADS-sensitive (P2 receptor antagonist), manner; and (iii) that the increase in burst frequency produced by increasing CO2 is unaffected by PPADS, indicate that ATP is a potent modulator of respiratory activity, but that P2 receptors do not contribute to central chemosensitivity in vitro.