Dopamine (DA) neurones of the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) are involved in a wide variety of functions, including motor control and reward-based learning. In order to gain new insights into the firing properties of neuronal ensembles in the SNc, we recorded extracellular single units from spontaneously active neurones, using a multi-electrode array (MEA) device in midbrain slices. The majority of neurones (50.21%) had a low firing frequency (1-3 Hz) and a stable pacemaker-like pattern, while others (44.84%) were irregular, but still firing at a low rate. The remaining population (4.95%) comprised neurones with a regular higher firing rate (5-10 Hz). High rate neurones, on the whole, were insensitive to DA (30 μ m), while low rate neurones were mostly inhibited by DA, although responding either with a prominent or a weak inhibition. However, we recorded low rate regular neurones that were insensitive to DA, or irregular low rate neurones excited by DA. Interestingly, we found pairs of active neurones (12.10 ± 3.14%) with a significant proportion of spikes occurring synchronously. Moreover, the crosscorrelation probability in each pair tended to increase in response to DA. In conclusion, MEA recordings in midbrain slices reveal a much more complex picture than previously reported with regard to the firing pattern and DA sensitivity of spontaneously active SNc neurones. Moreover, the study opens new prospectives for the in vitro investigation of functional connectivity in the midbrain dopaminergic system, thus proposing new targets for the pharmacological treatment of DA-dependent neurological disorders.
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