Behavioral correlates of theta-on and theta-off cells recorded from hippocampal formation of mature young and aged rats

S. J.Y. Mizumori, C. A. Barnes, B. L. McNaughton

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53 Scopus citations


Most hippocampal formation single units in freely behaving rats fall into one of two categories (Ranck 1973). The most obvious behavioral correlate of complex-spike (CS) cells is spatially selective discharge (O'Keefe and Dostrovsky 1971), while theta cells show increased firing in phase with the EEG θ rhythm associated with Vanderwolf's Type I behaviors (e.g. walking, exploration). Recently, Colom and Bland (1987) described, in urethane anesthetized animals, a class of non-CS cell which was inactive in the presence of EEG θ and discharged continuously during LIA. They called these "theta-off" cells and used the term "theta-on" to refer to the classical "theta" cell. We describe the behavioral correlates of 14 theta-off cells encountered in CA1 (n = 1), hilus fascia dentata (FD; n = 4), subiculum (n = 6), and entorhinal cortex (n = 3). These cells were encountered very infrequently in the course of several experimental investigations of mature young and old rats involving 885 hippocampal neurons recorded from 33 rats during radial maze performance. Fourteen theta-on cells encountered within a few hundred microns of the sites where theta-off cells were recorded were included for comparison. Both theta-on and theta-off cells discharged single spikes and did not show CS bursting characteristic of pyramidal cells. Theta-off cells, however, exhibited significantly greater spike durations than theta-on cells. Mean rates for theta-on and theta-off cells were 8.7 Hz and 6.5 Hz, respectively. Maximum rates were 114 Hz and 104 Hz, respectively. Some cells of both types showed 6-8 Hz modulation while animals traversed the maze. Whereas firing rate for theta-on cells increased smoothly with running velocity, it decreased smoothly for theta-off cells. While no theta-on cells exhibited clear spatial selectivity, two hilar theta-off cells did. When EEG θ rhythm was temporarily abolished by local injection of tetracaine into the medial septum, two theta-off cells were observed to fire continuously at high rates irrespective of behavior, with a pronounced 18-20 Hz rhythmic modulation. Under these circumstances, theta-on cells decrease their rates. Within the 7 theta-off cells recorded in each of the two age groups, there were no statistically significant differences in firing characteristics. Possible anatomical candidates for theta-off cells are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-373
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1990


  • Hippocampus
  • Movement correlates
  • Place fields
  • Rats
  • Spatial performance
  • Theta cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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