Calcium imaging has led to discoveries about neural correlates of behavior in subcortical neurons, including dopamine (DA) neurons. However, spike inference methods have not been tested in most populations of subcortical neurons. To address this gap, we simultaneously performed calcium imaging and electrophysiology in DA neurons in brain slices and applied a recently developed spike inference algorithm to the GCaMP fluorescence. This revealed that individual spikes can be inferred accurately in this population. Next, we inferred spikes in vivo from calcium imaging from these neurons during Pavlovian conditioning, as well as during navigation in virtual reality. In both cases, we quantitatively recapitulated previous in vivo electrophysiological observations. Our work provides a validated approach to infer spikes from calcium imaging in DA neurons and implies that aspects of both tonic and phasic spike patterns can be recovered.
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