1. The fluctuations during various phases of the slow sleep oscillation (< 1 Hz) in synaptic responsiveness of motor cortical (Cx), thalamic reticular (RE) and thalamocortical (TC) neurones were investigated intracellularly in cats under ketamine-xylazine anaesthesia. Orthodromic responses to stimuli applied to brachium conjunctivum (BC) axons and corticothalamic pathways were studied. The phases of slow oscillation consist of a long-hyperpolarized, followed by a sharp depth-negative EEG deflection and a series of faster waves that are associated with the depolarization of Cx and RE neurones, while TC cells display a sequence of IPSPs within the spindle frequency. 2. BC-evoked bisynaptic excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) in Cx and RE neurones were drastically reduced in amplitude during the long-lasting hyperpolarization and the early part of the depolarizing phase. By contrast, the BC-evoked monosynaptic EPSPs of TC cells were not diminished during the depth-positive EEG wave, but the hyperpolarization during this phase of the slow oscillation prevented TC neurones transferring prethalamic signals to the cortex. 3. At variance with the diminished bisynaptic EPSPs evoked in response to BC stimuli during the long-lasting hyperpolarization, Cx-evoked monosynaptic EPSPs in Cx cells increased linearly with hyperpolarization during this phase of the slow oscillation. Similarly, the amplitudes of Cx-evoked EPSPs in RE and TC cells were not diminished during the long-lasting hyperpolarization. 4. The diminished responsiveness of Cx and RE neurones to prethalamic volleys during the long-lasting hyperpolarization is attributed to gating processes at the level of TC cells that, because of their hyperpolarization, do not transfer prethalamic information to further relays.