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Somatosens Mot Res. 2002;19(4):341-6.

Topography of rodent whisking--I. Two-dimensional monitoring of whisker movements.

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Biopsychology Program, Hunter College, CUNY, New York, NY 10021, USA.


During 'active touch' the rodent whiskers scan the environment in a series of repetitive movements ('whisks') generating afferent signals which transform the spatial properties of objects into spatio-temporal patterns of neural activity. Based upon analyses carried out in a single movement plane, it has been generally assumed that these trajectories are essentially uni-dimensional, although more complex movements have been described in some rodents. The present study was designed to examine this assumption and to more precisely characterize whisking topography by monitoring whisking trajectories along both the antero-posterior and dorso-ventral axes. Using optoelectronic monitoring techniques with high-spatio-temporal resolution, movement data were obtained from a population of vibrissae sampled at different locations on the mystacial pad in head-fixed rats isolated from the perturbing effects of contact. For a substantial proportion of the population of whisking movements sampled, the trajectories generated by a single whisker is most accurately described as occupying an expended two-dimensional space in which the A-P component predominates. However, the whisker system exhibits a considerable range of trajectory types, suggesting a high degree of movement flexibility. For each vibrissa position, it was possible to delineate a 'trajectory' domain-that portion of the animal's whisking space which is scanned by the movements of that vibrissa during whisking. Since the 'domains' of adjacent whiskers in the same row tend to overlap, synchronized movements of a subset of whiskers could generate a set of overlapping somatosensory fields analogous to overlapping retinal receptive fields. The organization of such trajectory domains within the rats' whisking space could provide the spatial component of the spatio-temporal integration process required to extract information about environmental features from the inputs generated by its recursive whisking movements.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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