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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Nov;106(5):2749-63. doi: 10.1152/jn.00267.2011. Epub 2011 Aug 24.

A distinctive subpopulation of medial septal slow-firing neurons promote hippocampal activation and theta oscillations.

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Dept. of Neurobiology, Duke Univ. Medical Center, Durham, NC 27705, USA.


The medial septum-vertical limb of the diagonal band of Broca (MSvDB) is important for normal hippocampal functions and theta oscillations. Although many previous studies have focused on understanding how MSVDB neurons fire rhythmic bursts to pace hippocampal theta oscillations, a significant portion of MSVDB neurons are slow-firing and thus do not pace theta oscillations. The function of these MSVDB neurons, especially their role in modulating hippocampal activity, remains unknown. We recorded MSVDB neuronal ensembles in behaving rats, and identified a distinct physiologically homogeneous subpopulation of slow-firing neurons (overall firing <4 Hz) that shared three features: 1) much higher firing rate during rapid eye movement sleep than during slow-wave (SW) sleep; 2) temporary activation associated with transient arousals during SW sleep; 3) brief responses (latency 15∼30 ms) to auditory stimuli. Analysis of the fine temporal relationship of their spiking and theta oscillations showed that unlike the theta-pacing neurons, the firing of these "pro-arousal" neurons follows theta oscillations. However, their activity precedes short-term increases in hippocampal oscillation power in the theta and gamma range lasting for a few seconds. Together, these results suggest that these pro-arousal slow-firing MSvDB neurons may function collectively to promote hippocampal activation.

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