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J Neurophysiol. 1999 May;81(5):2046-55.

Multisecond oscillations in firing rate in the basal ganglia: robust modulation by dopamine receptor activation and anesthesia.

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Experimental Therapeutics Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Multisecond oscillations in firing rate in the basal ganglia: robust modulation by dopamine receptor activation and anesthesia. Studies of CNS electrophysiology have suggested an important role for oscillatory neuronal activity in sensory perception, sensorimotor integration, and movement timing. In extracellular single-unit recording studies in awake, immobilized rats, we have found that many tonically active neurons in the entopeduncular nucleus (n = 15), globus pallidus (n = 31), and substantia nigra pars reticulata (n = 31) have slow oscillations in firing rate in the seconds-to-minutes range. Basal oscillation amplitude ranged up to +/-50% of the mean firing rate. Spectral analysis was performed on spike trains to determine whether these multisecond oscillations were significantly periodic. Significant activity in power spectra (in the 2- to 60-s range of periods) from basal spike trains was found for 56% of neurons in these three nuclei. Spectral peaks corresponded to oscillations with mean periods of approximately 30 s in each nucleus. Multisecond baseline oscillations were also found in 21% of substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons. The dopamine agonist apomorphine (0.32 mg/kg iv, n = 10-15) profoundly affected multisecond oscillations, increasing oscillatory frequency (means of spectral peak periods were reduced to approximately 15 s) and increasing the regularity of the oscillations. Apomorphine effects on oscillations in firing rate were more consistent from unit to unit than were its effects on mean firing rates in the entopeduncular nucleus and substantia nigra. Apomorphine modulation of multisecond periodic oscillations was reversed by either D1 or D2 antagonists and was mimicked by the combination of selective D1 (SKF 81297) and D2 (quinpirole) agonists. Seventeen percent of neurons had additional baseline periodic activity in a faster range (0.4-2.0 s) related to ventilation. Multisecond periodicities were rarely found in neurons in anesthetized rats (n = 29), suggesting that this phenomenon is sensitive to overall reductions in central activity. The data demonstrate significant structure in basal ganglia neuron spiking activity at unexpectedly long time scales, as well as a novel effect of dopamine on firing pattern in this slow temporal domain. The modulation of multisecond periodicities in firing rate by dopaminergic agonists suggests the involvement of these patterns in behaviors and cognitive processes that are affected by dopamine. Periodic firing rate oscillations in basal ganglia output nuclei should strongly affect the firing patterns of target neurons and are likely involved in coordinating neural activity responsible for motor sequences. Modulation of slow, periodic oscillations in firing rate may be an important mechanism by which dopamine influences motor and cognitive processes in normal and dysfunctional states.

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