Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings were used to investigate the electrophysiological properties of mitral cells in rat main olfactory bulb brain slice preparations. The majority of mitral cells are bistable. These cells spontaneously alternate between two membrane potentials, separated by approximately 10 mV: a relatively depolarized potential (upstate), which is perithreshold for spike generation, and a relatively hyperpolarized potential (downstate), in which spikes do not occur. Bistability occurs spontaneously in the absence of ionotropic excitatory or inhibitory synaptic inputs. Bistability is voltage dependent; transition from the downstate to the upstate is a regenerative event activated by brief depolarization. A brief hyperpolarization can switch the membrane potential from the upstate to the downstate. In response to olfactory nerve (ON) stimulation, mitral cells in the upstate are more likely to fire an action potential than are those in the downstate. ON stimulation can switch the membrane potential from the downstate to the upstate, producing a prolonged and amplified depolarization in response to a brief synaptic input. We conclude that bistability is an intrinsic property of mitral cells that is a major determinant of their responses to ON input.