Intra-cortical microstimulation (ICMS) is a widely used technique to artificially stimulate cortical tissue. This method revealed functional maps and provided causal links between neuronal activity and cognitive, sensory or motor functions. The effects of ICMS on neural activity depend on stimulation parameters. Past studies investigated the effects of stimulation frequency mainly at the behavioral or motor level. Therefore the direct effect of frequency stimulation on the evoked spatio-temporal patterns of cortical activity is largely unknown. To study this question we used voltage-sensitive dye imaging to measure the population response in the barrel cortex of anesthetized rats evoked by high frequency stimulation (HFS), a lower frequency stimulation (LFS) of the same duration or a single pulse stimulation. We found that single pulse and short trains of ICMS induced cortical activity extending over few mm. HFS evoked a lower population response during the sustained response and showed a smaller activation across time and space compared with LFS. Finally the evoked population response started near the electrode site and spread horizontally at a propagation velocity in accordance with horizontal connections. In summary, HFS was less effective in cortical activation compared to LFS although HFS had 5 fold more energy than LFS.
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