We monitored the spatiotemporal organization of cellular activity in the medial paraventricular hypothalamus during spontaneously-occurring periods of increased inspiratory effort followed by prolonged respiratory pauses (sigh/apnea) in the freely-behaving cat. Paraventricular hypothalamic activity was assayed by video images of light captured with a stereotaxically-placed fibre optic probe. Respiratory activity was measured through electromyographic wire electrodes placed in the diaphragm. Sigh/apnea events appeared in all behavioural states, and especially during quiet sleep. Overall paraventricular hypothalamic activity declined transiently, with the onset of decline coinciding with the beginning of the sigh inspiratory effort, reached a nadir at apnea onset 4.4+0.5 s from the beginning of the sigh, increased during the course of the apnea, and subsequently rebounded above baseline to peak at 10.9+2.5 s after sigh onset. Scattered, small areas of the imaged region were activated or depressed independently of the overall image values. The data suggest that paraventricular hypothalamic activity changes dynamically during phasic respiratory events, and may contribute to the progression of the sigh/apnea. We speculate that the medial paraventricular hypothalamus influences breathing patterns through projections to parabrachial respiratory phase-shift regions, and that longer-latency influences may also be exerted indirectly through blood pressure effects from paraventricular hypothalamic projections to medullary cardiovascular nuclei. Additionally, the paraventricular hypothalamus may convey respiratory influences from other rostral structures, such as the hippocampus.