The medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) is an increasingly important focus for investigation of mechanisms for spatial representation. Grid cells found in layer II of the MEC are likely to be stellate cells, which form a major projection to the dentate gyrus. Entorhinal stellate cells are distinguished by distinct intrinsic electrophysiological properties, but how these properties contribute to representation of space is not yet clear. Here, we review the ionic conductances, synaptic, and excitable properties of stellate cells, and examine their implications for models of grid firing fields. We discuss why existing data are inconsistent with models of grid fields that require stellate cells to generate periodic oscillations. An alternative possibility is that the intrinsic electrophysiological properties of stellate cells are tuned specifically to control integration of synaptic input. We highlight recent evidence that the dorsal-ventral organization of synaptic integration by stellate cells, through differences in currents mediated by HCN and leak potassium channels, influences the corresponding organization of grid fields. Because accurate cellular data will be important for distinguishing mechanisms for generation of grid fields, we introduce new data comparing properties measured with whole-cell and perforated patch-clamp recordings. We find that clustered patterns of action potential firing and the action potential after-hyperpolarization (AHP) are particularly sensitive to recording condition. Nevertheless, with both methods, these properties, resting membrane properties and resonance follow a dorsal-ventral organization. Further investigation of the molecular basis for synaptic integration by stellate cells will be important for understanding mechanisms for generation of grid fields.
Keywords: HCN; grid cell; ion channel; oscillation; resonance; synaptic integration; theta.