The genetic variation in spontaneous rhythmic electroencephalographic (EEG) activity was assessed by the quantitative analysis of the EEG in six inbred mice strains. Mean spectral EEG profiles (0-25 Hz) over 24 h were obtained for paradoxical sleep (PS), slow-wave sleep (SWS), and wakefulness. A highly significant genotype-specific variation was found for theta peak frequency during both PS and SWS, which strongly suggests the presence of a gene with a major effect. The strain distribution of theta peak frequency during exploratory behavior differed from that during sleep. In SWS, the relative contributions of delta (1-4 Hz) and sigma (11-15) power to the EEG varied with genotype and power in both frequency bands was negatively correlated. In addition, the EEG dynamics at state transitions were analyzed with a 4-s resolution. The onset of PS, but not that of wakefulness, was preceded by a pronounced peak in high-frequency (>11 Hz) power. These findings are discussed in terms of the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying rhythm generation and their control and modulation by the brain stem reticular-activating system.