Vibrissal kinematics in 3D: tight coupling of azimuth, elevation, and torsion across different whisking modes

Neuron. 2008 Jul 10;59(1):35-42. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.05.013.


Perception is usually an active process by which action selects and affects sensory information. During rodent active touch, whisker kinematics influences how objects activate sensory receptors. In order to fully characterize whisker motion, we reconstructed whisker position in 3D and decomposed whisker motion to all its degrees of freedom. We found that, across behavioral modes, in both head-fixed and freely moving rats, whisker motion is characterized by translational movements and three rotary components: azimuth, elevation, and torsion. Whisker torsion, which has not previously been described, was large (up to 100 degrees), and torsional angles were highly correlated with whisker azimuths. The coupling of azimuth and torsion was consistent across whisking epochs and rats and was similar along rows but systematically varied across rows such that rows A and E counterrotated. Torsional rotation of the whiskers enables contact information to be mapped onto the circumference of the whisker follicles in a predictable manner across protraction-retraction cycles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Head Movements
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Rotation
  • Torsion, Mechanical*
  • Vibrissae / innervation*