Tactile signals transmitted by the vibrissa during active whisking behavior

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Jun 1;113(10):3511-8. doi: 10.1152/jn.00011.2015. Epub 2015 Apr 1.


The rodent vibrissal-trigeminal system is one of the most widely used models for the study of somatosensation and tactile perception, but to date the field has been unable to quantify the complete set of mechanical input signals generated during natural whisking behavior. In this report we show that during whisking behavior of awake rats (Rattus norvegicus), the whisker will often bend out of its plane of rotation, generating sizeable mechanical (tactile) signals out of the plane. We then develop a model of whisker bending that allows us to compute the three-dimensional tactile signals at the vibrissal base during active whisking behavior. Considerable information can be lost if whisking motions are considered only in two dimensions, and we offer some suggestions for experimentalists concerned with monitoring the direction of bending. These data represent the first quantification of the physical signals transmitted to the mechanoreceptors in the follicle during active whisking behavior.

Keywords: active sensing; biomechanics; somatosensation; trigeminal; whisker.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motion
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / innervation*
  • Wakefulness