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Somatosens Mot Res. 2005 Sep;22(3):97-114.

Comparison of bilateral whisker movement in freely exploring and head-fixed adult rats.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Program, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203, USA.


Rats move their whiskers actively during tactile exploration of their environment. The whiskers emanate from densely innervated whisker follicles that are moved individually by intrinsic facial muscles and as a group by extrinsic muscles. Several descriptions of whisker movements in normal adult rats during unrestrained exploration indicate that rats move their whiskers in the 6-9 Hz range when exploring a new environment. The rate can be elevated to nearly 20 Hz for brief episodes just prior to making a behavioural decision. The present studies were undertaken to compare whisker dynamics in head-restrained and freely moving rats with symmetrical or asymmetrical numbers of whiskers on the two sides of their face and to provide a description of differences in whisker use in exploring rats after trimming all but two whiskers on one side of the face, a condition that has been shown to induce robust cortical plasticity. Head-fixed rats were trained to protract their whiskers against a contact detector with sufficient force to trigger a chocolate milk reward. Whisker movements were analyzed, and the results from head-fixed animals were compared with free-running animals using trials taken during their initial exploration of novel objects that blocked the rat's progress down an elevated runway. The results show that symmetrical whisker movements are modulated both by the nature of the task and the number of whiskers available for exploration. Rats can change their whisker movements when the sensitivity (threshold) of a contact detector is raised or lowered, or when the nature of the task requires bilateral input from the whiskers. We show that trimming some, but not all whiskers on one side of the face modifies the synchrony of whisker movement compared to untrimmed or symmetrically trimmed whiskers.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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