One form of rhythmic activity intrinsic to neocortex can be induced in slices of adult somatosensory cortex by lowering [Mg2+]o to unblock N-methyl--aspartate (NMDA) receptors. It has been suggested that a population of intrinsically burst-firing (IB) neurons that are unique to cortical layer 5 may play a role in the rhythmic activity seen under these conditions. Whole cell patch-clamp and field-potential recordings in slices of somatosensory cortex from neonatal rats were used to study the development of IB cells and the development of 0 [Mg2+] oscillations. IB cells were not encountered before postnatal day 12 (P12) in layer 5, but from P13 to P19 an increasing proportion of cells had IB properties. Recordings from cells at P7, P17, and P19 in 0 [Mg2+] indicate that dramatic changes occur postnatally in 0 [Mg2+]-induced activity. At P7, cells largely showed trains of single action potentials. In contrast, at P19, cells showed organized bursts of rhythmic activity lasting 0.5-5 s separated by periods of relative quiescence. Cells recorded at P17 were found to have less organized rhythmic activity than cells from P19 cortex. Field-potential recordings in 0 [Mg2+] made at P7 showed infrequent and slowly occurring field depolarizations, whereas field-potential recordings at P19 consisted of spontaneous bursts of 4-12 Hz oscillations identical to those observed in the adult. Application of NE, which inhibits burst-firing of layer 5 IB cells, significantly altered the discharge pattern of 0 [Mg2+] oscillations at P19. These data suggest that the maturation of one type of rhythmic network activity intrinsic to neocortex is influenced by the development of the membrane properties of a single cell type.