To better understand how a stream of sensory data is transformed into a percept, we examined neuronal activity in vibrissal sensory cortex, vS1, together with vibrissal motor cortex, vM1 (a frontal cortex target of vS1), while rats compared the intensity of two vibrations separated by an interstimulus delay. Vibrations were "noisy," constructed by stringing together over time a sequence of velocity values sampled from a normal distribution; each vibration's mean speed was proportional to the width of the normal distribution. Durations of both stimulus 1 and stimulus 2 could vary from 100 to 600 ms. Psychometric curves reveal that rats overestimated the longer-duration stimulus-thus, perceived intensity of a vibration grew over the course of hundreds of milliseconds even while the sensory input remained, on average, stationary. Human subjects demonstrated the identical perceptual phenomenon, indicating that the underlying mechanisms of temporal integration generalize across species. The time dependence of the percept allowed us to ask to what extent neurons encoded the ongoing stimulus stream versus the animal's percept. We demonstrate that vS1 firing correlated with the local features of the vibration, whereas vM1 firing correlated with the percept: the final vM1 population state varied, as did the rat's behavior, according to both stimulus speed and stimulus duration. Moreover, vM1 populations appeared to participate in the trace of the percept of stimulus 1 as the rat awaited stimulus 2. In conclusion, the transformation of sensory data into the percept appears to involve the integration and storage of vS1 signals by vM1.
Keywords: neuronal coding; psychometric; psychophysics; rats; somatosensory; tactile; vibration; vibrissa; whiskers.
Copyright © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.