Visualization of the spread of electrical activity in rat hippocampal slices by voltage-sensitive optical probes

J Physiol. 1982 Dec;333:269-91. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1982.sp014453.


1. Voltage-sensitive membrane-bound dyes and a matrix of 100 photodetectors were used to detect the spread of evoked electrical activity at the CA1 region of rat hippocampus slices. A display processor was designed in order to visualize the spread of electrical activity in slow motion.2. The stimulation of the Schaffer collateral-commissural path in the stratum radiatum evoked short latency (2-4 msec) fast optical signals, followed by longer latency (4-15 msec) slow signals which decayed within 20-50 msec. Multiple fast signals were frequently detected at the stratum pyramidale; they propagated toward the stratum oriens with an approximate conduction velocity of 0.1 m/sec.3. The fast signals were unaltered in a low Ca(2+) high Mg(2+) medium but were blocked by tetrodotoxin. These signals probably represent action potentials in the Schaffer collateral axons. Their conduction velocity was about 0.2 m/sec and their refractory period about 3-4 msec.4. The slow signals were absent in a low Ca(2+) medium and probably represent excitatory post-synaptic potentials (e.p.s.p.s) generated in the apical dendrites of the pyramidal cells. They were generated in the stratum radiatum, where the presynaptic signals were seen, and spread into somata and basal dendrites (the stratum pyramidale and oriens, respectively).5. The timing of the signals with fast rise-time, which were detected at the statum pyramidale, approximately coincided with the timing of the extracellularly recorded field potentials. These multiple discharges probably represent action potentials of the pyramidal cells. They spread back into the apical dendrites but with significant attenuation of the amplitudes of the high frequency components of the pyramidal action potentials.6. Hyperpolarizing potentials could be detected when strong stimuli were applied to the stratum radiatum or alveus. The net hyperpolarizations were detected only in the stratum pyramidale and the border region between the stratum pyramidale and radiatum. Frequently the inhibition was masked by the large e.p.s.p.s. However, its existence could be demonstrated by treatment of the slice with picrotoxin or a low Cl(-) medium. Under these conditions a long-lasting depolarization of the apical dedrites was evoked by the stimulation. This was associated with an increase of the multiple discharges in the stratum pyramidale and oriens.7. These studies illustrate the usefulness of voltage-sensitive dyes in the analysis of passive and active electrical properties, pharmacological properties and synaptic connexions in mammalian brain slices, at the level both of small neuronal elements (dendrites, axons) and of synchronously active neuronal populations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Calcium / pharmacology
  • Coloring Agents*
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Magnesium / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Photometry / instrumentation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology


  • Coloring Agents
  • Tetrodotoxin
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium