Earlier work on freely moving rats classified neurons in Ammon's horn as pyramidal cells (including place cells) or interneurons (previously called "theta cells") based on temporal discharge correlates and waveform configurations, but the anatomical and biochemical diversity of interneurons suggests they may have other distinguishing characteristics. To explore this possibility, we made extracellular recordings as rats foraged for food in an open space, used accepted criteria to identify interneurons, and found two additional categorization methods. First, interneurons were separated into theta-modulated and theta-independent groups using spike autocorrelograms. Second, theta-modulated interneurons were further separated into four groups by the phase of the ∼8Hz theta rhythm at which firing was most rapid. These phase groups resemble the four phase peak groups of five anatomically identified interneuron types (two with the same preferred phase) recorded during the slow (∼4 Hz) theta rhythm in urethane-anesthetized rats. We suggest that the similar number of peak phase groups in walking rats and urethane-anesthetized rats and the partial agreement between peak phase values reflect a similar organization of theta rhythm in both states, so that the discharge properties of anatomically identified interneurons can be described in freely moving rats. Interestingly, the average spatial firing precision of the interneuron classes does not differ significantly, suggesting that the strong location-specific firing of place cells may be due to segregated high- and low-precision interneuron ensembles rather than to one or more dedicated high-precision classes.
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