The nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) contains neurons that are part of the central neuronal network controlling rhythmic breathing movements in mammals. Nerve terminals within the NTS show immunoreactivity to thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), a neuropeptide that has potent stimulatory effects on respiration. By means of a brainstem slice preparation in vitro, TRH induced rhythmic bursting in neurons in the respiratory division of the NTS. The frequency of bursting was voltage-dependent and could be reset by short depolarizing current pulses. In the presence of tetrodotoxin, TRH produced rhythmic oscillations in membrane potential whose frequency was also voltage-dependent. These observations suggest that TRH modulates the membrane excitability of NTS neurons and allows them to express endogenous bursting activity.