Chronic multiunit recordings in behaving animals: advantages and limitations

Prog Brain Res. 2005;147:263-82. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(04)47020-4.


By simultaneous recording from neural responses at many different loci at the same time, we can understand the interaction between neurons, and thereby gain insight into the network properties of neural processing, instead of the functioning of individual neurons. Here we will discuss a method for recording in behaving animals that uses chronically implanted micro-electrodes that allow one to track neural responses over a long period of time. In a majority of cases, multiunit activity, which is the aggregate spiking activity of a number of neurons in the vicinity of an electrode tip, is recorded through these electrodes, and occasionally single neurons can be isolated. Here we compare the properties of multiunit responses to the responses of single neurons in the primary visual cortex. We also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the multiunit signal as opposed to a signal of single neurons. We demonstrate that multiunit recording provides a reliable and useful technique in cases where the neurons at the electrodes have similar response properties. Multiunit recording is therefore especially valuable when task variables have an effect that is consistent across the population of neurons. In the primary visual cortex, this is the case for figure-ground segregation and visual attention. Multiunit recording also has clear advantages for cross-correlation analysis. We show that the cross-correlation function between multiunit signals gives a reliable estimate of the average single-unit cross-correlation function. By the use of multiunit recording, it becomes much easier to detect relatively weak interactions between neurons at different cortical locations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Electrophysiology / instrumentation
  • Electrophysiology / methods*
  • Microelectrodes
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*