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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Nov 12;366(1581):3058-69. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0161.

Whisking and whisker kinematics during a texture classification task.

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International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), Cognitive Neuroscience Sector, Italian Institute of Technology-SISSA Unit, Via Bonomea 265, 34136 Trieste, Italy.


Rats explore objects by rhythmically whisking with their vibrissae. The goal of the present study is to learn more about the motor output used by rats to acquire texture information as well as the whisker motion evoked by texture contact. We trained four rats to discriminate between different grooved textures and used high-speed video to characterize whisker motion during the task. The variance in whisking parameters among subjects was notable. After whisker trimming, the animals changed their behaviour in ways that appear consistent with an optimization of whisker movement to compensate for lost information. These results lead to the intriguing notion that the rats use an information-seeking 'cognitive' motor strategy, instead of a rigid motor programme. Distinct stick/slip events occurred during texture palpation and their frequency increased in relation to the spatial frequency of the grooves. The results allow a preliminary assessment of three candidate texture-coding mechanisms-the number of grooves encountered during each touch, the temporal difference between groove contacts and the spatial pattern of groove contacts across the whiskers.

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