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J Neurosci Methods. 2008 Jun 30;171(2):197-206. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2008.02.023. Epub 2008 Mar 22.

A system for studying facial nerve function in rats through simultaneous bilateral monitoring of eyelid and whisker movements.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, United States.


The occurrence of inappropriate co-contraction (synkinesis) of facially innervated muscles in humans is a common sequela of facial nerve injury and recovery. We have developed a system for studying facial nerve function and synkinesis in restrained rats using non-contact opto-electronic techniques that enable simultaneous bilateral monitoring of eyelid and whisker movements. Whisking is monitored in high spatio-temporal resolution using laser micrometers, and eyelid movements are detected using infrared diode and phototransistor pairs that respond to the increased reflection when the eyelids cover the cornea. To validate the system, 8 rats were tested with multiple 5-min sessions that included corneal air puffs to elicit blink and scented air flows to elicit robust whisking. Four rats then received unilateral facial nerve section and were tested at weeks 3-6. Whisking and eye blink behavior occurred both spontaneously and under stimulus control, with no detectable difference from published whisking data. Proximal facial nerve section caused an immediate ipsilateral loss of whisking and eye blink response, but some ocular closures emerged due to retractor bulbi muscle function. The independence observed between whisker and eyelid control indicates that this system may provide a powerful tool for identifying abnormal co-activation of facial zones resulting from aberrant axonal regeneration.

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