Rodent whisker sensation occurs both actively, as whiskers move rhythmically across objects, and in a passive mode in which externally applied deflections are sensed by static, non-moving whiskers. Passive whisker stimuli are robustly encoded in the somatosensory (S1) cortex, and provide a potentially powerful means of studying cortical processing. However, whether S1 contributes to passive sensation is debated. We developed 2 new behavioral tasks to assay passive whisker sensation in freely moving rats: Detection of unilateral whisker deflections and discrimination of right versus left whisker deflections. Stimuli were simple, simultaneous multi-whisker deflections. Local muscimol inactivation of S1 reversibly and robustly abolished sensory performance on these tasks. Thus, S1 is required for the detection and discrimination of simple stimuli by passive whiskers, in addition to its known role in active whisker sensation.
Keywords: S1; active sensation; behavior; inactivation; muscimol; vibrissa.