'Where' and 'what' in the whisker sensorimotor system

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Aug;9(8):601-12. doi: 10.1038/nrn2411.


In the visual system of primates, different neuronal pathways are specialized for processing information about the spatial coordinates of objects and their identity - that is, 'where' and 'what'. By contrast, rats and other nocturnal animals build up a neuronal representation of 'where' and 'what' by seeking out and palpating objects with their whiskers. We present recent evidence about how the brain constructs a representation of the surrounding world through whisker-mediated sense of touch. While considerable knowledge exists about the representation of the physical properties of stimuli - like texture, shape and position - we know little about how the brain represents their meaning. Future research may elucidate this and show how the transformation of one representation to another is achieved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Head Movements / physiology
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / innervation
  • Vibrissae / physiology*