Twenty-seven inbred strains of mice were tested for spike-wave discharge (SWD) activity by video-electroencephalographic recordings over a 24-h recording period. Eight strains had reproducible, frequent SWDs, including five strains (C57BLKS/J, CBA/J, DBA/1J, NOR/LtJ, SM/J) previously undiagnosed for this distinctive phenotype. Eighteen other strains exhibited no such activity. Spike-wave discharges usually occurred while the subject was motionless, and in a significant number of annotated instances coincided with an arrest of the subject's relatively unrestrained locomotor activity, which resumed immediately after the discharge ended. In all five new strains, SWDs were suppressed by ethosuximide administration. From the genealogy of inbred strains, we suggest that two ancestors, A and DBA, transmitted genotypes required for SWD in all positive strains. Together these strains with SWDs provide new opportunities to understand the genetic core susceptibility of this distinctive electroencephalographic activity and to explore its relationship to absence epilepsy, a human disorder for which few genes are known.