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J Neurophysiol. 2016 Apr;115(4):1797-809. doi: 10.1152/jn.00465.2015. Epub 2016 Jan 20.

Selection of head and whisker coordination strategies during goal-oriented active touch.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts


In the rodent whisker system, a key model for neural processing and behavioral choices during active sensing, whisker motion is increasingly recognized as only part of a broader motor repertoire employed by rodents during active touch. In particular, recent studies suggest whisker and head motions are tightly coordinated. However, conditions governing the selection and temporal organization of such coordinated sensing strategies remain poorly understood. We videographically reconstructed head and whisker motions of freely moving mice searching for a randomly located rewarded aperture, focusing on trials in which animals appeared to rapidly "correct" their trajectory under tactile guidance. Mice orienting after unilateral contact repositioned their whiskers similarly to previously reported head-turning asymmetry. However, whisker repositioning preceded head turn onsets and was not bilaterally symmetric. Moreover, mice selectively employed a strategy we term contact maintenance, with whisking modulated to counteract head motion and facilitate repeated contacts on subsequent whisks. Significantly, contact maintenance was not observed following initial contact with an aperture boundary, when the mouse needed to make a large corrective head motion to the front of the aperture, but only following contact by the same whisker field with the opposite aperture boundary, when the mouse needed to precisely align its head with the reward spout. Together these results suggest that mice can select from a diverse range of sensing strategies incorporating both knowledge of the task and whisk-by-whisk sensory information and, moreover, suggest the existence of high level control (not solely reflexive) of sensing motions coordinated between multiple body parts.


decision; sensorimotor; somatosensory; trigeminal; vestibular; vibrissa

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