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Neural information is conveyed by action potentials along axons to downstream synaptic targets. Synapses permit functionally relevant modulation of the information transmitted by converging inputs. Previous studies have measured the amount of information associated with a given stimulus based either on spike counts or on the relative frequencies of spike sequences represented as binary strings. Here we apply information theory to the phase-interval stimulus histogram (PhISH) to measure the extent of the stimulus-evoked response using the statistical relationship between each interspike interval and its phase within the stimulus cycle. We used the PhISH as a novel approach to investigate how different osmotic states affect the flow of information through the osmoreceptor complex of the hypothalamus. The amount of information conveyed from one (afferent) element of the complex, the anteroventral region of the third ventricle (AV3V), to another (an efferent element), the supraoptic nucleus, was increased by hypertonic stimulation (intravenous mannitol, z = 4.39, P < 0.001) and decreased by hypotonic stimulation (intragastric water, z = -3.37, P < 0.001). Supraoptic responses to AV3V stimulation differed from those that follow stimulation of a hypothalamic element outside the osmoreceptor complex, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which also projects to the supraoptic nucleus. Thus osmosensitive gain control mechanisms differentially modulate osmotically dependent and osmotically independent inputs, and enhance the osmoresponsiveness of supraoptic cells within a physiological range. The value of the novel approach is that its use is not limited to the osmoreceptor ensemble but it can be used to investigate the flow of information throughout the central nervous system.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Neurosci

Publication Date





1989 - 1998


Action Potentials, Animals, Male, Models, Theoretical, Neurons, Osmolar Concentration, Osmosis, Rats, Rats, Wistar, Supraoptic Nucleus, Synaptic Transmission