Intrinsic firing patterns and whisker-evoked synaptic responses of neurons in the rat barrel cortex

J Neurophysiol. 1999 Mar;81(3):1171-83. doi: 10.1152/jn.1999.81.3.1171.


We have used whole cell recording in the anesthetized rat to study whisker-evoked synaptic and spiking responses of single neurons in the barrel cortex. On the basis of their intrinsic firing patterns, neurons could be classified as either regular-spiking (RS) cells, intrinsically burst-spiking (IB) cells, or fast-spiking (FS) cells. Some recordings responded to current injection with a complex spike pattern characteristic of apical dendrites. All cell types had high rates of spontaneous postsynaptic potentials, both excitatory (EPSPs) and inhibitory (IPSPs). Some spontaneous EPSPs reached threshold, and these typically elicited only single action potentials in RS cells, bursts of action potentials in FS cells and IB cells, and a small, fast spike or a complex spike in dendrites. Deflection of single whiskers evoked a fast initial EPSP, a prolonged IPSP, and delayed EPSPs in all cell types. The intrinsic firing pattern of cells predicted their short-latency whisker-evoked spiking patterns. All cell types responded best to one or, occasionally, two primary whiskers, but typically 6-15 surrounding whiskers also generated significant synaptic responses. The initial EPSP had a relatively fixed amplitude and latency, and its amplitude in response to first-order surrounding whiskers was approximately 55% of that induced by the primary whisker. Second- and third-order surrounding whiskers evoked responses of approximately 27 and 12%, respectively. The latency of the initial EPSP was shortest for the primary whiskers, longer for surrounding whiskers, and varied with the neurons' depth below the pia. EPSP latency was shortest in the granular layer, longer in supragranular layers, and longest in infragranular layers. The receptive field size, defined as the total number of fast EPSP-inducing whiskers, was independent of each cell's intrinsic firing type, its subpial depth, or the whisker stimulus parameters. On average, receptive fields included >10 whiskers. Our results show that single neurons integrate rapid synaptic responses from a large proportion of the mystacial vibrissae, and suggest that the whisker-evoked responses of barrel neurons are a function of both synaptic inputs and intrinsic membrane properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / physiology*