When an electrode is advanced through a nervous system from one cell to another, to systematically sample the electrical activity of individual neurons, a striking diversity of neuronal electrical properties is observed. For example different neurons may exhibit different endogenous firing patterns; some may be silent in the absence of external stimulus, whereas others may fire action potentials spontaneously, at regular or irregular intervals. Neurons may also vary in the size and shape of their action potentials, which can give rise to large differences in the amplitude and time course of neuroÂ transmitter release from their terminals. Finally, even closely related neurons may respond differently to the same synaptic input. Clearly such diversity of neuronal properties is of fundamental importance in determining the output of the neural circuits in which neurons participate. Equally important is the fact that patterns of neuronal electrical activity are not static, but are subject to dynamic regulation by a variety of external influences (63). For example, under certain conditions, a neuron that normally is silent might begin to fire action potentials spontaneously, the duration of its action potentials might increase or decrease, or it might change the magnitude and even the direction of
Annual Review of Physiology – Annual Reviews
Published: Mar 1, 1994
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