In the hippocampus, spatial representation of the environment has been suggested to be coded by either the firing rate of pyramidal cell assemblies or the relative timing of the action potentials during the theta EEG cycle. Here, we used a behavioural 'space clamp' method, which involved the confinement of the actively running animal in a defined position in space (running wheel) to examine how 'spatial' and other inputs affect firing rate and timing of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cells and interneurons. Nineteen per cent of the recorded CA1 pyramidal cells were selectively active while the rat was running in the wheel in a given direction ('wheel' cells). Spatial rotation of the apparatus showed that selective discharge of pyramidal cells in the wheel was under the combined influence of distal and apparatus cues. During steady running, both discharge rate and theta phase were constant. Rotation of the wheel apparatus resulted in a shift of both firing rate and preferred theta phase. The discharge frequency of 'wheel' cells increased threefold (on average) with increasing running velocity. In contrast, change in running speed had relatively little effect on the theta phase-related discharge of 'wheel' cells. Our findings indicate that mechanisms that regulate rate and phase of spikes are overlapping but not necessarily identical.
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