Any occasional changes in the acoustic environment are of potential importance for survival. In humans, the preattentive detection of such changes generates the mismatch negativity (MMN) component of event-related brain potentials. MMN is elicited to rare changes ('deviants') in a series of otherwise regularly repeating stimuli ('standards'). Deviant stimuli are detected on the basis of a neural comparison process between the input from the current stimulus and the sensory memory trace of the standard stimuli. It is, however, unclear to what extent animals show a similar comparison process in response to auditory changes. To resolve this issue, epidural potentials were recorded above the primary auditory cortex of urethane-anesthetized rats. In an oddball condition, tone frequency was used to differentiate deviants interspersed randomly among a standard tone. Mismatch responses were observed at 60-100 ms after stimulus onset for frequency increases of 5% and 12.5% but not for similarly descending deviants. The response diminished when the silent inter-stimulus interval was increased from 375 ms to 600 ms for +5% deviants and from 600 ms to 1000 ms for +12.5% deviants. In comparison to the oddball condition the response also diminished in a control condition in which no repetitive standards were presented (equiprobable condition). These findings suggest that the rat mismatch response is similar to the human MMN and indicate that anesthetized rats provide a valuable model for studies of central auditory processing.