The purpose of this study was to characterize neuronal activity in the deep cerebellar nuclei of the unanesthetized genetically dystonic rat during the neonatal period when the clinical signs of the dystonic syndrome first appear. Previous lesion studies have established cerebellar output as critical to the expression of the dystonic rat's motor syndrome, a disorder that closely resembles generalized dystonia in humans. In the dystonic rat, both cerebellectomy and selective lesions of the deep cerebellar nuclei decrease the frequency of abnormal motor signs and improve performance on tests of motor function. Single-unit activity was recorded from the medial, interpositus and lateral cerebellar nuclei in awake normal (N=49) and dystonic (N=54) rats at postnatal days 12-26. One hundred and eighty-three cells were isolated, 91 from normal and 92 from dystonic rats. Interspike interval histograms, autocorrelations and ratemeter histograms were generated for each cell's spike train. Interspike interval histograms were modeled with single and double gamma distributions. Cells from dystonic rats as young as 12 days of age showed bursting firing patterns, positively skewed or bimodal interspike interval histograms, and sinusoidal autocorrelations. Bursting activity increased linearly with postnatal age in dystonic rats. Cells from normal rats demonstrated non-sinusoidal autocorrelations and unimodal interspike interval histograms. Spike frequency increased linearly with postnatal age in both normal and dystonic rats. There were no statistically significant group differences in spike frequency between normal and dystonic rats. These findings show that functional neuropathology can be detected at the level of single neurons in the deep cerebellar nuclei at the earliest behavioral stages of the dystonic rat's movement disorder. The degree of abnormality in spike train parameters correlates with the severity of the movement disorder. Independent of neuronal firing rates, abnormal neuronal firing patterns can serve as a guide to the localization of pathological cell populations within the central nervous system. These results provide additional evidence that abnormal cerebellar output plays a critical role in the pathophysiology of the dystonic rat's motor syndrome.