Functional independence of layer IV barrels in rodent somatosensory cortex

J Neurophysiol. 1999 Sep;82(3):1311-6. doi: 10.1152/jn.1999.82.3.1311.


Layer IV of rodent primary somatosensory cortex is characterized by an array of whisker-related groups of neurons, known as "barrels." Neurons within each barrel respond best to a particular whisker on the contralateral face, and, on deflection of adjacent whiskers, display relatively weak excitation followed by strong inhibition. A prominent hypothesis for the processing of vibrissal information within layer IV is that the multiwhisker receptive fields of barrel neurons reflect interconnections among neighboring barrels. An alternative view is that the receptive field properties of barrel neurons are derived from operations performed on multiwhisker, thalamic inputs by local circuitry within each barrel, independently of neighboring barrels. Here we report that adjacent whisker-evoked excitation and inhibition within a barrel are unaffected by ablation of the corresponding adjacent barrel. In supragranular neurons, on the other hand, excitatory responses to the ablated barrel's associated whisker are substantially reduced. We conclude that the layer IV barrels function as an array of independent parallel processors, each of which individually transforms thalamic afferent input for subsequent processing by horizontally interconnected circuits in other layers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Denervation
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / physiology*