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J Physiol. 2011 Jun 15;589(Pt 12):2993-3008. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.205021. Epub 2011 Apr 18.

Dorsal-ventral organization of theta-like activity intrinsic to entorhinal stellate neurons is mediated by differences in stochastic current fluctuations.

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Centre for Integrative Physiology, The Hugh Robson Building, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XD, UK.


The membrane potential dynamics of stellate neurons in layer II of the medial entorhinal cortex are important for neural encoding of location. Previous studies suggest that these neurons generate intrinsic theta-frequency membrane potential oscillations, with a period that depends on neuronal location on the dorsal–ventral axis of themedial entorhinal cortex, and which in behaving animals could support generation of grid-like spatial firing fields. To address the nature and organization of this theta-like activity, we adopt the Lombmethod of least-squares spectral analysis. We demonstrate that peaks in frequency spectra that differ significantly from Gaussian noise do not necessarily imply the existence of a periodic oscillator, but can instead arise from filtered stochastic noise or a stochastic random walk. We show that theta-like membrane potential activity recorded fromstellate neurons in mature brain slices is consistentwith stochastic mechanisms, but not with generation by a periodic oscillator. The dorsal–ventral organization of intrinsic theta-likemembrane potential activity, and themodification of this activity during block of HCN channels, both reflect altered frequency distributions of stochastic spectral peaks, rather than tuning of a periodic oscillator. Our results demonstrate the importance of distinguishing periodic oscillations from stochastic processes.We suggest that dorsal–ventral tuning of theta-like membrane potential activity is due to differences in stochastic current fluctuations resulting from organization of ion channels that also control synaptic integration.

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