Magnocellular oxytocin neurones are proposed as a suitable system for studying the mechanisms involved in the regulation of neuronal bursting activity. They display high frequency (50 sp./s) bursts of spikes (approximately every 300 s), in response to specific stimuli, which are superimposed on a variable level of basal activity and are tightly co-ordinated as a result of network interactions. The relationship between the strength of the bursting activity (as quantified by burst amplitude and interburst interval) and the characteristics of the interburst basal activity were assessed. During control conditions, mean basal activity and variability of firing increased just before bursts. During experimental conditions leading to burst facilitation, burst amplitude increased and interburst interval decreased while a sustained increase in mean firing rate occurred. Variability of firing (measured by both the standard deviation of firing rate, and the index of dispersion which corrected this standard deviation for differences in mean firing rate), increased demonstrating an increase in spike clustering greater than expected as a result of increased basal activity. When bursting was restrained (i.e. interburst interval increased), mean basal activity increased substantially, but index of dispersion decreased. A narrowing of the interspike interval distribution occurred, indicating increased regularity of firing. The aspect of basal activity most strongly correlated with bursting was variability of firing rate. The strongest correlate of burst amplitude was the standard deviation of mean firing rate, whereas the strongest and most consistent correlate of interburst interval was the index of dispersion. In conclusion, bursting behaviour is most strongly related to the irregularity rather than the level of basal activity.