Integration of bilateral whisker stimuli in rats: role of the whisker barrel cortices

Cereb Cortex. 2002 Jan;12(1):86-97. doi: 10.1093/cercor/12.1.86.


Recently, we demonstrated that neural responses within the whisker region of the primary somatosensory cortex (SIw) of rats are profoundly influenced by the spatiotemporal attributes of ipsilateral, as well as contralateral, whisker stimuli. As inactivation of one SIw eliminates in the intact SIw both ipsilaterally evoked responses and the influence of ipsilateral stimulation on contralaterally evoked activity, we proposed that interhemispheric interactions between the SIws may be important for integrating bilateral whisker information. To test whether rats can recognize the bilateral nature of a whisker stimulus, we developed a tactile discrimination task that required rats to conjointly determine distances to a left and a right discriminandum as equidistant or non-equidistant using only their facial whiskers. All rats trained in this task achieved performance levels indicative of an ability to integrate bilateral whisker information. Testing during unilateral, as well as bilateral, inactivation of the SIws indicated that rats rely on both SIws for detecting the bilateral nature of a whisker stimulus. Rats were unable to perform the task without both sets of whiskers, a fact that indicates that the whiskers (and not other modalities) were used to perform this task. The findings presented here indicate that rats can solve a task that requires the conjoint detection of left and right whisker-mediated distance information and implicate the SIws as central to this ability.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Male
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / innervation*