NO (nitric oxide) modulates several central pattern generators, but its role in respiratory rhythmogenesis and its mode of action on medullary respiratory neurons during normoxia are unknown. We analysed the actions of NO on the mammalian respiratory network at the system and cellular levels. Given systemically, the NO donor diethylamine NONOate increased post-inspiratory duration in vagus, phrenic and hypoglossal nerves, whereas blockade of NO generation with L-NAME (N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester) produced the opposite response. At the cellular level, we pressure-ejected the NO donor on to respiratory neurons. NO had both inhibitory and excitatory effects on all types of respiratory neurons. Inhibitory effects involved soluble guanylate cyclase, as they were blocked with ODQ (1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazolo[4,3a]quinoxalin-1-one), whereas excitations were antagonized by uric acid and possibly mediated via peroxynitrite. Importantly, NO facilitated both GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)- and NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate)-induced neuronal responses, but this was restricted to post-inspiratory and pre-inspiratory neurons; other neuron types showed additive effects only. Our results support NO as modulator of centrally generated respiratory activity and specifically of ligand-mediated responses in respiratory neuron types involved in respiratory phase transition.