1. The electrophysiological properties of guinea pig medial mammillary body (MMB) neurons were studied using an in vitro slice preparation. 2. The neurons (n = 80) had an average resting potential of -57 +/- 5.5 (SD) mV, an input resistance of 176 +/- 83 M omega, and a spike amplitude of 58 +/- 15.7 mV. Most of the neurons were silent at rest (n = 52), but some fired spontaneous single spikes (n = 16) or spike bursts (n = 14). 3. The main electrophysiological characteristic of MMB neurons was the ability to generate Ca(2+)-dependent regenerative events, which resulted in very robust burst responses. However, this regenerative event was not the same for all neurons, ranging from typical low-threshold Ca2+ spikes (LTSs) to intermediate-threshold plateau potentials (ITPs). 4. The ITPs were distinct from the LTSs in that they lasted > or = 100 ms and were not inactivated at membrane potentials at or positive to -55 mV. 5. Some cells with a prominent ITP and no LTS (n = 36) displayed repetitive, usually rhythmic, bursting (n = 14). This ITP could be powerful enough to maintain rhythmic membrane potential oscillations after pharmacological block of Na+ conductances. 6. A group of 32 MMB neurons displayed complex bursting that was generated by activation of both LTSs and ITPs. This was established on the basis of their distinct time- and voltage-dependent characteristics. In a group of neurons (n = 14), the burst responses were exclusively generated by an LTS; however, a Ca(2+)-dependent plateau potential contributed to the generation of rebound-triggered oscillatory firing. 7. In addition to the Ca(2+)-dependent LTS and/or ITP, MMB neurons always displayed high-threshold Ca2+ spikes after reduction of K+ conductances with tetraethylammonium. 8. MMB neurons display one of the richer varieties of voltage-dependent Ca2+ conductances so far encountered in mammalian CNS. We propose that the very prominent endogenous bursting and oscillatory properties of MB neurons allow this nuclear complex to function as an oscillatory relay for the transmission of low-frequency rhythmic activities throughout the limbic circuit.