This article reviews the electroresponsive properties of single neurons in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS). In some of these cells the ionic conductances responsible for their excitability also endow them with autorhythmic electrical oscillatory properties. Chemical or electrical synaptic contacts between these neurons often result in network oscillations. In such networks, autorhythmic neurons may act as true oscillators (as pacemakers) or as resonators (responding preferentially to certain firing frequencies). Oscillations and resonance in the CNS are proposed to have diverse functional roles, such as (i) determining global functional states (for example, sleep-wakefulness or attention), (ii) timing in motor coordination, and (iii) specifying connectivity during development. Also, oscillation, especially in the thalamo-cortical circuits, may be related to certain neurological and psychiatric disorders. This review proposes that the autorhythmic electrical properties of central neurons and their connectivity form the basis for an intrinsic functional coordinate system that provides internal context to sensory input.
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