It is well established that cholinergic agonists, when injected into the pontine reticular formation in cats, produce a generalized suppression of motor activity (1, 3, 6, 14, 18, 27, 33, 50). The responsible neuronal mechanisms were explored by measuring ventral root activity, the amplitude of the Ia-monosynaptic reflex, and the basic electrophysiological properties of hindlimb motoneurons before and after carbachol was microinjected into the pontine reticular formation of decerebrate cats. Intrapontine microinjections of carbachol (0.25-1.0 microliter, 16 mg/ml) resulted in the tonic suppression of ventral root activity and a decrease in the amplitude of the Ia-monosynaptic reflex. An analysis of intracellular records from lumbar motoneurons during the suppression of motor activity induced by carbachol revealed a considerable decrease in input resistance and membrane time constant as well as a reduction in motoneuron excitability, as evidenced by a nearly twofold increase in rheobase. Discrete inhibitory postsynaptic potentials were also observed following carbachol administration. The changes in motoneuron properties (rheobase, input resistance, and membrane time constant), as well as the development of discrete inhibitory postsynaptic potentials, indicate that spinal cord motoneurons were postsynaptically inhibited following the pontine administration of carbachol. In addition, the inhibitory processes that arose after carbachol administration in the decerebrate cat were remarkably similar to those that are present during active sleep in the chronic cat. These findings suggest that the microinjection of carbachol into the pontine reticular formation activates the same brain stem-spinal cord system that is responsible for the postsynaptic inhibition of alpha-motoneurons that occurs during active sleep.