During deep sleep and anesthesia, the EEG of humans and animals exhibits a distinctive slow (<1 Hz) rhythm. In inhibitory neurons of the nucleus reticularis thalami (NRT), this rhythm is reflected as a slow (<1 Hz) oscillation of the membrane potential comprising stereotypical, recurring "up" and "down" states. Here we show that reducing the leak current through the activation of group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) with either trans-ACPD [(+/-)-1-aminocyclopentane-trans-1,3-dicarboxylic acid] (50-100 microM) or DHPG [(S)-3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine] (100 microM) instates an intrinsic slow oscillation in NRT neurons in vitro that is qualitatively equivalent to that observed in vivo. A slow oscillation could also be evoked by synaptically activating mGluRs on NRT neurons via the tetanic stimulation of corticothalamic fibers. Through a combination of experiments and computational modeling we show that the up state of the slow oscillation is predominantly generated by the "window" component of the T-type Ca2+ current, with an additional supportive role for a Ca2+-activated nonselective cation current. The slow oscillation is also fundamentally reliant on an Ih current and is extensively shaped by both Ca2+- and Na+-activated K+ currents. In combination with previous work in thalamocortical neurons, this study suggests that the thalamus plays an important and active role in shaping the slow (<1 Hz) rhythm during deep sleep.