The processing of sensory information varies widely across behavioral states. However, little is known about how behavioral states modulate the intracellular activity of cortical neurons to effect changes in sensory responses. Here, we performed whole-cell recordings from neurons in upper-layer primary visual cortex of awake mice during locomotion and quiet wakefulness. We found that the signal-to-noise ratio for sensory responses was improved during locomotion by two mechanisms: (1) a decrease in membrane potential variability leading to a reduction in background firing rates and (2) an enhancement in the amplitude and reliability of visually evoked subthreshold responses mediated by an increase in total conductance and a depolarization of the stimulus-evoked reversal potential. Consistent with the enhanced signal-to-noise ratio for visual responses during locomotion, we demonstrate that performance is improved in a visual detection task during this behavioral state.
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