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Nat Neurosci. 2013 May;16(5):622-31. doi: 10.1038/nn.3378. Epub 2013 Apr 7.

Pre-neuronal morphological processing of object location by individual whiskers.

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Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


In the vibrissal system, touch information is conveyed by a receptorless whisker hair to follicle mechanoreceptors, which then provide input to the brain. We examined whether any processing, that is, meaningful transformation, occurs in the whisker itself. Using high-speed videography and tracking the movements of whiskers in anesthetized and behaving rats, we found that whisker-related morphological phase planes, based on angular and curvature variables, can represent the coordinates of object position after contact in a reliable manner, consistent with theoretical predictions. By tracking exposed follicles, we found that the follicle-whisker junction is rigid, which enables direct readout of whisker morphological coding by mechanoreceptors. Finally, we found that our behaving rats pushed their whiskers against objects during localization in a way that induced meaningful morphological coding and, in parallel, improved their localization performance, which suggests a role for pre-neuronal morphological computation in active vibrissal touch.

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