necdin (Ndn) is one of a cluster of genes deleted in the neurodevelopmental disorder Prader-Willi syndrome. necdin is upregulated during neuronal differentiation and is thought to play a role in cell cycle arrest in terminally differentiated neurons. Most necdin-deficient Ndn(tm2Stw) mutant pups carrying a targeted replacement of Ndn with a lacZ reporter gene die in the neonatal period of apparent respiratory insufficiency. We now demonstrate that the defect can be explained by abnormal neuronal activity within the putative respiratory rhythm-generating center, the pre-Bötzinger complex. Specifically, the rhythm is unstable with prolonged periods of depression of respiratory rhythmogenesis. These observations suggest that the developing respiratory center is particularly sensitive to loss of necdin activity and may reflect abnormalities of respiratory rhythm-generating neurons or conditioning neuromodulatory drive. We propose that necdin deficiency may contribute to observed respiratory abnormalities in individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome through a similar suppression of central respiratory drive.