Coordinated population activity underlying texture discrimination in rat barrel cortex

J Neurosci. 2013 Mar 27;33(13):5843-55. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3486-12.2013.


Rodents can robustly distinguish fine differences in texture using their whiskers, a capacity that depends on neuronal activity in primary somatosensory "barrel" cortex. Here we explore how texture was collectively encoded by populations of three to seven neuronal clusters simultaneously recorded from barrel cortex while a rat performed a discrimination task. Each cluster corresponded to the single-unit or multiunit activity recorded at an individual electrode. To learn how the firing of different clusters combines to represent texture, we computed population activity vectors across moving time windows and extracted the signal available in the optimal linear combination of clusters. We quantified this signal using receiver operating characteristic analysis and compared it to that available in single clusters. Texture encoding was heterogeneous across neuronal clusters, and only a minority of clusters carried signals strong enough to support stimulus discrimination on their own. However, jointly recorded groups of clusters were always able to support texture discrimination at a statistically significant level, even in sessions where no individual cluster represented the stimulus. The discriminative capacity of neuronal activity was degraded when error trials were included in the data, compared to only correct trials, suggesting a link between the neuronal activity and the animal's performance. These analyses indicate that small groups of barrel cortex neurons can robustly represent texture identity through synergistic interactions, and suggest that neurons downstream to barrel cortex could extract texture identity on single trials through simple linear combination of barrel cortex responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Numerical Analysis, Computer-Assisted
  • ROC Curve
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors
  • Touch / physiology
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / innervation
  • Video Recording