We have compared the effects of xenon and nitrous oxide on central nervous system (CNS) electrical activity during sevoflurane anaesthesia in cats by recording the electroencephalogram (EEG), multi-unit activity of the midbrain reticular formation (R-MUA) and somatosensory evoked potentials (SEP). Basal anaesthesia with 2% and 5% sevoflurane was used. With 2% sevoflurane, 70% xenon initially produced rhythmic slow waves which were followed by bursts of high-amplitude sharp waves interrupted by low amplitude slow waves on the EEG. Xenon induced an initial increase, followed by a decrease in R-MUA. Nitrous oxide 70% decreased the amplitude of the EEG activity which was associated with an increase in R-MUA. Xenon suppressed the amplitude of both the initial positive and negative deflections of the SEP to a greater extent than nitrous oxide. With 5% sevoflurane anaesthesia, both anaesthetics increased the frequency of spikes on the EEG and facilitated R-MUA. These findings indicate that xenon has a stimulatory action on CNS background activity and a suppressive action on CNS reactive capability which is more potent than that of nitrous oxide.