Superior colliculus cells sensitive to active touch and texture during whisking

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jul;106(1):332-46. doi: 10.1152/jn.00072.2011. Epub 2011 Apr 27.


Rats sense the environment through rhythmic vibrissa protractions, called active whisking, which can be simulated in anesthetized rats by electrically stimulating the facial motor nerve. Using this method, we investigated barrel cortex field potential and superior colliculus single-unit responses during passive touch, whisking movement, active touch, and texture discrimination. Similar to passive touch, whisking movement is signaled during the onset of the whisker protraction by short-latency responses in barrel cortex that drive corticotectal responses in superior colliculus, and all these responses show robust adaptation with increases in whisking frequency. Active touch and texture are signaled by longer latency responses, first in superior colliculus during the rising phase of the protraction, likely driven by trigeminotectal inputs, and later in barrel cortex by the falling phase of the protraction. Thus, superior colliculus is part of a broader vibrissa neural network that can decode whisking movement, active touch, and texture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / physiology*