The present study was undertaken 1) to examine the neuronal mechanisms responsible for the inhibition of spinal cord motoneurons that occurs in alpha-chloralose-anesthetized cats following the microinjection of carbachol into the nucleus pontis oralis (NPO), and 2) to determine whether the inhibitory mechanisms are the same as those that are responsible for the postsynaptic inhibition of motoneurons that is present during naturally occurring active sleep. Accordingly, the basic electrophysiological properties of lumbar motoneurons were examined, with the use of intracellular recording techniques, in cats anesthetized with alpha-chloralose and compared with those present during naturally occurring active sleep. The intrapontine administration of carbachol resulted in a sustained reduction in the amplitude of the spinal cord Ia monosynaptic reflex. Discrete large-amplitude inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs), which are only present during the state of active sleep in the chronic cat, were also observed in high-gain recordings from lumbar motoneurons after the injection of carbachol. During carbachol-induced motor inhibition, lumbar motoneurons exhibited a statistically significant decrease in input resistance, membrane time constant and a reduction in the amplitude of the action potential's afterhyperpolarization. In addition, there was a statistically significant increase in rheobase and in the delay between the initial-segment (IS) and somadendritic (SD) portions of the action potential (IS-SD delay). There was a significant increase in the mean motoneuron resting membrane potential (i.e., hyperpolarization). The preceding changes in the electrophysiological properties of motoneurons, as well as the development of discrete IPSPs, indicate that lumbar motoneurons are postsynaptically inhibited after the intrapontine administration of carbachol in cats that are anesthetized with alpha-chloralose. These changes in the electrophysiological properties of lumbar motoneurons were found to be comparable with those that take place during the atonia of active (rapid-eye-movement) sleep in chronic cats. The present results support the conclusion that the neural system that is responsible for motor inhibition during naturally occurring active sleep can also be activated in alpha-chloralose-anesthetized cats following the injection of carbachol into the NPO.