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J Neurophysiol. 2008 Sep;100(3):1245-54. doi: 10.1152/jn.90478.2008. Epub 2008 Jun 18.

Superior colliculus control of vibrissa movements.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


This study tested the role of the superior colliculus in generating movements of the mystacial vibrissae--whisking. First, we compared the kinematics of whisking generated by the superior colliculus with those generated by the motor cortex. We found that in anesthetized rats, microstimulation of the colliculus evoked a sustained vibrissa protraction, whereas stimulation of motor cortex produced rhythmic protractions. Movements generated by the superior colliculus are independent of motor cortex and can be evoked at lower thresholds and shorter latencies than those generated by the motor cortex. Next we tested the hypothesis that the colliculus is acting as a simple reflex loop with the neurons that drive vibrissa movement receiving sensory input evoked by vibrissa contacts. We found that most tecto-facial neurons do not receive sensory input. Not only did these neurons not spike in response to sensory stimulation, but field potential analysis revealed that subthreshold sensory inputs do not overlap spatially with tecto-facial neurons. Together these findings suggest that the superior colliculus plays a pivotal role in vibrissa movement--regulating vibrissa set point and whisk amplitude--but does not function as a simple reflex loop. With the motor cortex controlling the whisking frequency, the superior colliculus control of set point and amplitude would account for the main parameters of voluntary whisking.

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