Texture coding in the whisker system

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2010 Jun;20(3):313-8. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2010.02.014. Epub 2010 Mar 17.


The whisker somatosensory system in awake, behaving rodents is a powerful model for studying neurobiology of sensation, from molecules to circuits to behavior. Recent studies reveal how key tactile features are detected in awake animals and encoded by spike trains in somatosensory cortex (S1). Here we summarize progress on detection of surface texture (roughness). Texture appears to be inferred from the statistics of complex, irregular whisker micromotion on surfaces, specifically by mean speed or by patterns of discrete, high-velocity whisker slips. These are encoded in S1 by mean firing rate and by sparse, synchronous, slip-evoked spike volleys, respectively. An alternative model of place coding for texture based on differential whisker resonance is less well supported, but is not ruled out.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Afferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / innervation
  • Vibrissae / physiology*