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Nature. 2004 Feb 19;427(6976):704-10.

Whisker movements evoked by stimulation of single pyramidal cells in rat motor cortex.

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Department of Cell Physiology, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Jahnstrasse 29, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


Neuronal activity in the motor cortex is understood to be correlated with movements, but the impact of action potentials (APs) in single cortical neurons on the generation of movement has not been fully determined. Here we show that trains of APs in single pyramidal cells of rat motor cortex can evoke long sequences of small whisker movements. For layer-5 pyramids, we find that evoked rhythmic movements have a constant phase relative to the AP train, indicating that single layer-5 pyramids can reset the rhythm of whisker movements. Action potentials evoked in layer-6 pyramids can generate bursts of rhythmic whisking, with a variable phase of movements relative to the AP train. An increasing number of APs decreases the latency to onset of movement, whereas AP frequency determines movement direction and amplitude. We find that the efficacy of cortical APs in evoking whisker movements is not dependent on background cortical activity and is greatly enhanced in waking rats. We conclude that in vibrissae motor cortex sparse AP activity can evoke movements.

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