1. Spindles represent an oscillatory activity (7-14 Hz) of the electroencephalogram (EEG) originating in the thalamus and appearing during early stages of sleep. We investigated: (i) the phase relations between thalamic and cortical neurons during this rhythm; (ii) the patterns of spindles under different anaesthetics and their modifications at various levels of the membrane potential (Vm); and (iii) the potentiating role of the corticothalamic feedback in the genesis of spindles. Intra- and extracellular recordings were performed in cats from reticular and dorsal thalamic nuclei, as well as from various cortical areas. 2. In thalamic reticular neurons, spindles were sequences of waves at 7-14 Hz, riding on a prolonged depolarizing plateau and occurring in phase with depth-negative cortical EEG waves. In thalamocortical cells, spindles consisted of inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) in phase with depth-positive cortical EEG waves and occasionally leading to rebound spike bursts. In cortical cells, spindle waves were rhythmic (7-14 Hz) excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) that sometimes gave rise to action potentials. Spindles occurred in phase among thalamic reticular, thalamocortical and neocortical neurons. 3. In thalamic reticular neurons, spindle waves and their depolarizing plateaux increased in amplitude with slight cellular hyperpolarization, but at a Vm more negative than -80 or -85 mV they decreased in amplitude. No frequency alterations were observed with these Vm changes. 4. The waxing-and-waning pattern of spontaneous spindles under barbiturate anaesthesia was distinct from the waning pattern under ketamine-xylazine anaesthesia. Under all anaesthetics, spindles had a waning pattern when elicited by cortical stimuli. The amplitude of cortical-evoked spindle waves diminished with the decrease in stimulation intensity. 5. Under urethane or ketamine-xylazine anaesthesia, spindle sequences were grouped by a cortically generated slow oscillation (< 1 Hz) and were preceded by a depth-positive EEG wave that corresponded to a prolonged hyperpolarization in all three investigated (cortical, thalamic reticular, and thalamocortical) cellular types. 6. We propose that the waxing pattern of spindle oscillation is due to a progressive entrainment of units into the oscillation until a maximum number is reached, depending on the background activity in the network. The phase relations between cortical, thalamic reticular and thalamocortical neurons are ascribed to distributed excitatory signals from thalamocortical neurons to both cortical and reticular neurons at each cycle of the oscillation. In turn, cortical neurons provide a powerful drive to potentiate the genesis of thalamic spindles.