1. Electrophysiologically identified thalamocortical neurones have been intra- and extracellularly recorded in acutely prepared cats, under different anaesthetic conditions. 2. A slow (0.5-4 Hz) membrane potential oscillation was observed in thalamocortical cells recorded in motor, sensory, associational and intralaminar thalamic nuclei. The oscillation consisted of rhythmic low-threshold spikes alternating with after-hyperpolarizations. 3. About 80% of the neurones with intact cortical connections were set into the slow oscillatory mode by bringing their membrane potential to between -68 and -90 mV. The oscillation did not depend upon the occurrence of fast action potentials and did not outlast the imposed hyperpolarization. 4. Anatomical or functional disconnection from related cortical areas resulted in a membrane potential hyperpolarization of about 9 mV and in the occurrence of spontaneous slow oscillations in virtually all recorded neurones. The intrinsic nature of the phenomenon was supported by the lack of rhythmic postsynaptic potentials as the cells were prevented from oscillating by outward current injection. 5. In contrast with other thalamic nuclei, the slow oscillation has not been observed in anterior thalamic neurones despite their having similar basic electrophysiological properties. 6. Barbiturate administration suppressed the slow oscillatory mode, an effect accompanied by a decrease in the membrane input resistance. 7. Multiunit recordings of spontaneously oscillating cells showed epochs characterized by phase-related firing. This synchronous discharge was paralleled by a clear-cut build-up of field potentials in the frequency range of electroencephalogram slow or delta waves. 8. These results demonstrate that the majority of thalamocortical neurones are endowed with electrophysiological properties allowing them to oscillate at 0.5-4 Hz, if they have a membrane potential more negative than -65 mV and a high input resistance. Such a condition is physiologically achieved in the deepest stages of electroencephalogram-synchronized sleep, as a result of brain stem-thalamic as well as cortico-thalamic deafferentation. We postulate a thalamic contribution in the genesis of electroencephalogram delta waves during slow wave sleep, once independently oscillating thalamocortical cells become in phase.