1. To study the encoding of input currents into output spike trains by regular-spiking cells, we recorded intracellularly from slices of the guinea pig visual cortex while injecting step, sinusoidal, and broadband noise currents. 2. When measured with sinusoidal currents, the frequency tuning of the spike responses was markedly band-pass. The preferred frequency was between 8 and 30 Hz, and grew with stimulus amplitude and mean intensity. 3. Stimulation with broadband noise currents dramatically enhanced the gain of the spike responses at low and high frequencies, yielding an essentially flat frequency tuning between 0.1 and 130 Hz. 4. The averaged spike responses to sinusoidal currents exhibited two nonlinearities: rectification and spike synchronization. By contrast, no nonlinearity was evident in the averaged responses to broadband noise stimuli. 5. These properties of the spike responses were not present in the membrane potential responses. The latter were roughly linear, and their frequency tuning was low-pass and well fit by a single-compartment passive model of the cell membrane composed of a resistance and a capacitance in parallel (RC circuit). 6. To account for the spike responses, we used a 'sandwich model' consisting of a low-pass linear filter (the RC circuit), a rectification nonlinearity, and a high-pass linear filter. The model is described by six parameters and predicts analog firing rates rather than discrete spikes. It provided satisfactory fits to the firing rate responses to steps, sinusoids, and broadband noise currents. 7. The properties of spike encoding are consistent with temporal nonlinearities of the visual responses in VI, such as the dependence of response frequency tuning and latency on stimulus contrast and bandwidth. We speculate that one of the roles of the high-frequency membrane potential fluctuations observed in vivo could be to amplify and linearize the responses to lower, stimulus- related frequencies.
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