Multiplexing stimulus information through rate and temporal codes in primate somatosensory cortex

PLoS Biol. 2013;11(5):e1001558. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001558. Epub 2013 May 7.


Our ability to perceive and discriminate textures relies on the transduction and processing of complex, high-frequency vibrations elicited in the fingertip as it is scanned across a surface. How naturalistic vibrations, and by extension texture, are encoded in the responses of neurons in primary somatosensory cortex (S1) is unknown. Combining single unit recordings in awake macaques and perceptual judgments obtained from human subjects, we show that vibratory amplitude is encoded in the strength of the response evoked in S1 neurons. In contrast, the frequency composition of the vibrations, up to 800 Hz, is not encoded in neuronal firing rates, but rather in the phase-locked responses of a subpopulation of neurons. Moreover, analysis of perceptual judgments suggests that spike timing not only conveys stimulus information but also shapes tactile perception. We conclude that information about the amplitude and frequency of natural vibrations is multiplexed at different time scales in S1, and encoded in the rate and temporal patterning of the response, respectively.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This work was supported by NSF grant IOS-1150209 ( The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.