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J Neurophysiol. 2002 Jun;87(6):2629-42.

Bimodality of theta phase precession in hippocampal place cells in freely running rats.

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RIKEN, Brain Science Institute, 2-1 Hirosawa, Wako, Saitama 351-0198 Japan.


The firing of hippocampal principal cells in freely running rats exhibits a progressive phase retardation as the animal passes through a cell's "place" field. This "phase precession" is more complex than a simple linear shift of phase with position. In the present paper, phase precession is quantitatively analyzed by fitting multiple (1-3) normal probability density functions to the phase versus position distribution of spikes in rats making repeated traversals of the place fields. The parameters were estimated by the Expectation Maximization method. Three data sets including CA1 and DG place cells were analyzed. Although the phase-position distributions vary among different cells and regions, this complexity is well described by a superposition of two normal distribution functions, suggesting that the firing behavior consists of two components. This conclusion is supported by the existence of two distinct maxima in the mean spike density in the phase versus position plane. In one component, firing phase shifts over a range of about 180 degrees. The second component, which occurs near the end of the traversal of the place field, exhibits a low correlation between phase and position and is anti-phase with the phase-shift component. The functional implications of the two components are discussed with respect to their possible contribution to learning and memory mechanisms.

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