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Neuron. 2005 Feb 3;45(3):447-57.

Positive feedback in a brainstem tactile sensorimotor loop.

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Department of Physics, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


The trigeminal loop in the brainstem comprises the innermost level of sensorimotor feedback in the rat vibrissa system. Anatomy suggests that this loop relays tactile information from the vibrissae to the motoneurons that control vibrissa movement. We demonstrate, using in vitro and in vivo recordings, that the trigeminal loop consists of excitatory pathways from vibrissa sensory inputs to vibrissa motoneurons in the facial nucleus. We further show that the trigeminal loop implements a rapidly depressing reflex that provides positive sensory feedback to the vibrissa musculature during simulated whisking and contact. On the basis of these findings, we propose that the trigeminal loop provides an enhancement of vibrissa muscle tone upon contact during active touch.

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