Abstract The present study examined specific effects of sodium cyanide (CN) on the membrane potential (MP), spontaneous discharge (SD) and voltage-gated ion current of the identified bulbospinal rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM) neuron in the rat pup brainstem slice. 125 μM CN rapidly depolarized MP in the RVLM neuron by 11.6 mV as well as enhanced the SD rate by 300%. In contrast, the same dose of CN immediately hyperpolarized unlabeled, non-RVLM neurons by 4.8 mV. 50 μM CN did not significantly affect voltage-gated Ca ++ or A-type K + currents. The same concentration of CN, however, rapidly and reversibly suppressed voltage-gated Na + currents and sustained outward K + currents in the RVLM neuron by 22.5% and 23%, respectively. Tetraethylammonium could mimic the effect of CN on MP, SD and sustained K + current in the RVLM neuron. It is concluded that: (1) like that from the adult rat, the rat pup bulbospinal RVLM neuron can be selectively and rapidly excited by CN; (2) the hypoxia-sensitive, sustained outward K + channel may play an important role in the acute hypoxia-induced excitation of the RVLM neurons.