1. Neurons from a horizontal slice of adult rat brainstem were examined using intracellular recording techniques. Investigations were restricted to a region within the nucleus tractus solitarii, medial to the solitary tract and centred on the obex (mNTS). Previous work has shown this restricted area of the NTS to contain the greatest concentration of aortic afferent baroreceptor terminal fields. Electrical stimulation of the tract elicited short‐latency excitatory postsynaptic potentials in all neurons. 2. mNTS neurons were spontaneously active with firing frequencies ranging between 1 and 10 Hz, at resting potentials of ‐65 to ‐45 mV. These neurons did not exhibit spontaneous bursting activity. 3. Depolarizing current injection immediately evoked a finite, high‐frequency spike discharge which rapidly declined to a lower steady‐state level (i.e. spike frequency adaptation, SFA). Increasing depolarizations produced a marked increase in the peak instantaneous frequency but a much smaller increase in the steady‐state firing level. 4. Conditioning with a hyperpolarizing prepulse resulted in a prolonged delay of up to 600 ms before the first action potential (i.e. delayed excitation, DE) with an attendant decrease in peak discharge rates. DE was modulated by both the magnitude and duration of the prestimulus hyperpolarization, as well as the magnitude of the depolarizing stimulus. Tetrodotoxin (TTX) eliminated spike discharge but had little effect on the ramp‐like membrane depolarization characteristic of DE. 5. We have developed a mathematical model for mNTS neurons to facilitate our understanding of the interplay between the underlying ionic currents. It consists of a comprehensive membrane model of the Hodgkin‐Huxley type coupled with a fluid compartment model describing cytoplasmic [Ca2+]i homeostasis. 6. The model suggests that (a) SFA is caused by an increase in [Ca2+]i which activates the outward K+ current, IK,Ca, and (b) DE results from the competitive interaction between the injected depolarizing current and the hyperpolarization‐activated transient outward K+ currents, IA and ID. 7. We conclude that our ionic current model is capable of providing biophysical explanations for a number of phenomena associated with brainstem neurons, either during spontaneous activity or in response to patterned injections of current. This model is a potentially useful adjunct for on‐going research into the central mechanisms involved in the regulation of both blood pressure and ventilation.
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