Both silent and spontaneously firing spiny projection neurons have been described in the neostriatum, but the reason for their differences in firing activity are unknown. We compared properties of spontaneously firing and silent spiny neurons in urethan-anesthetized rats. Neurons were identified as spiny projection neurons after labeling by intracellular injection of biocytin. The threshold for action-potential firing was measured under three different conditions: 1) electrical stimulation of the contralateral cerebral cortex, 2) brief directly applied current pulses, and 3) spontaneous action-potentials occurring during spontaneous episodes of depolarization ( state). The average membrane potential and the amplitude of noiselike fluctuations of membrane potential in the state were determined by fitting a Gaussian curve to the membrane-potential distribution. All neurons in the sample exhibited spontaneous membrane potential shifts between a hyperpolarized state and a depolarized state, but not all fired action potentials while in the state. The difference between the spontaneously firing and the silent spiny neurons was in the average membrane potential in the state, which was significantly more depolarized in the spontaneously firing than in the silent spiny neurons. There were no significant differences in the threshold, the amplitude of the noiselike fluctuations of membrane potential in the state, or in the proportion of time that the membrane potential was in the state. In both spontaneously firing and silent neurons, the threshold for action potentials evoked by current pulses was significantly higher than for those evoked by cortical stimulation. Application of more intense current pulses that reproduced the excitatory postsynaptic potential rate of rise produced firing at correspondingly lower thresholds. Because the membrane potential in the state is mainly determined by the balance between the synaptic drive and the outward potassium conductances activated in the subthreshold range of membrane potentials, either or both of these factors may determine whether firing occurs in response to spontaneous afferent activity.