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Somatosens Mot Res. 2003;20(2):163-9.

Unilateral vibrissa contact: changes in amplitude but not timing of rhythmic whisking.

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Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240, USA.


Electromyographic recordings from the mystacial pad of rats were used to assess the effect of unilateral vibrissa contact on the bilateral movement of the vibrissae. A first group of animals was trained to whisk freely in air and served to establish the baseline variability in bilateral symmetry. We observed that the electromyogram (EMG) activity across the two mystacial pads was rhythmic and synchronous to within 2 ms on a whisk-by-whisk basis; this value is small in comparison with the approximately 50 ms required for protraction during the whisk cycle. A second group of animals was trained to use their vibrissae to contact a sensor that was located on one side of the head. The average EMG activity across the two pads was synchronous at the time of vibrissa contact, albeit with higher variability than for the case of free whisking. In contrast, the average amplitude of the activity on the contact vs noncontact side of the face was transiently greater, by 25% or approximately 10 degrees, at the time of contact. These data show that the amplitude of the vibrissae on the two sides of the face can be controlled independently, while the timing of vibrissa movement is largely synchronous.

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