We measured the timing of spontaneous membrane potential fluctuations and action potentials of medial and lateral agranular corticostriatal and striatal neurons with the use of in vivo intracellular recordings in urethananesthetized rats. All neurons showed spontaneous subthreshold membrane potential shifts from 7 to 32 mV in amplitude, fluctuating between a hyperpolarized down state and depolarized up state. Action potentials arose only during the up state. The membrane potential state transitions showed a weak periodicity with a peak frequency near 1 Hz. The peak of the frequency spectra was broad in all neurons, indicating that the membrane potential fluctuations were not dominated by a single periodic function. At frequencies > 1 Hz, the log of magnitude decreased linearly with the log of frequency in all neurons. No serial dependence was found for up and down state durations, or for the time between successive up or down state transitions, showing that the up and down state transitions are not due to superimposition of noisy inputs onto a single frequency. Monte Carlo simulations of stochastic synaptic inputs to a uniform finite cylinder showed that the Fourier spectra obtained for corticostriatal and striatal neurons are inconsistent with a Poisson-like synaptic input, demonstrating that the up state is not due to an increase in the strength of an unpatterned synaptic input. Frequency components arising from state transitions were separated from those arising from the smaller membrane potential fluctuations within each state. A larger proportion of the total signal was represented by the fluctuations within states, especially in the up state, than was predicted by the simulations. The individual state spectra did not correspond to those of random synaptic inputs, but reproduced the spectra of the up and down state transitions. This suggests that the process causing the state transitions and the process responsible for synaptic input may be the same. A high-frequency periodic component in the up states was found in the majority of the corticostriatal cells in the sample. The average size of the component was not different between neurons injected with QX-314 and control neurons. The high-frequency component was not seen in any of our sample of striatal cells. Corticostriatal and striatal neurons coefficients of variation of interspike intervals ranged from 1.0 to 1.9. When interspike intervals including a down state were subtracted from the calculation, the coefficient of variation ranged from 0.4 to 1.1, indicating that a substantial proportion of spike interval variance was due to the subthreshold membrane potential fluctuations.
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