Channel blocking, anti-oscillatory, and anti-epileptic effects of clinically used anti-absence substances (ethosuximide, valproate) and the T-type Ca2+ current (IT) blocker mibefradil were tested by analyzing membrane currents in acutely isolated local circuit interneurons and thalamocortical relay (TC) neurons, slow intrathalamic oscillations in brain slices, and spike and wave discharges (SWDs) occurring in vivo in Wistar Albino Glaxo rats from Rijswijk (WAG/Rij). Substance effects in vitro were compared between WAG/Rij and a non-epileptic control strain, the ACI rats. Ethosuximide (ETX) and valproate were found to block IT in acutely isolated thalamic neurons. Block of IT by therapeutically relevant ETX concentrations (0.25-0.75 mM) was stronger in WAG/Rij, although the maximal effect at saturating concentrations (>or=10 mM) was stronger in ACI. Ethosuximide delayed the onset of the low threshold Ca2+ spike (LTS) of neurons recorded in slice preparations. Mibefradil (>or=2 microM) completely blocked IT and the LTS, dampened evoked thalamic oscillations, and attenuated SWDs in vivo. Computational modeling demonstrated that the complete effect of ETX can be replicated by a sole reduction of IT. However, the necessary degree of IT reduction was not induced by therapeutically relevant ETX concentrations. A combined reduction of IT, the persistent sodium current, and the Ca2+ activated K+ current resulted in an LTS alteration resembling the experimental observations. In summary, these results support the hypothesis of IT reduction as part of the mechanism of action of anti-absence drugs and demonstrate the ability of a specific IT antagonist to attenuate rhythmic burst firing and SWDs.