Bifurcation mechanisms involved in the generation of action potentials (spikes) by neurons are reviewed here. We show how the type of bifurcation determines the neuro-computational properties of the cells. For example, when the rest state is near a saddle-node bifurcation, the cell can fire all-or-none spikes with an arbitrary low frequency, it has a well-defined threshold manifold, and it acts as an integrator; i.e. the higher the frequency of incoming pulses, the sooner it fires. In contrast, when the rest state is near an Andronov–Hopf bifurcation, the cell fires in a certain frequency range, its spikes are not all-or-none, it does not have a well-defined threshold manifold, it can fire in response to an inhibitory pulse, and it acts as a resonator; i.e. it responds preferentially to a certain (resonant) frequency of the input. Increasing the input frequency may actually delay or terminate its firing.
We also describe the phenomenon of neural bursting, and we use geometric bifurcation theory to extend the existing classification of bursters, including many new types. We discuss how the type of burster defines its neuro-computational properties, and we show that different bursters can interact, synchronize and process information differently.