Dynamic cues for whisker-based object localization: An analytical solution to vibration during active whisker touch

PLoS Comput Biol. 2018 Mar 27;14(3):e1006032. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006032. eCollection 2018 Mar.


Vibrations are important cues for tactile perception across species. Whisker-based sensation in mice is a powerful model system for investigating mechanisms of tactile perception. However, the role vibration plays in whisker-based sensation remains unsettled, in part due to difficulties in modeling the vibration of whiskers. Here, we develop an analytical approach to calculate the vibrations of whiskers striking objects. We use this approach to quantify vibration forces during active whisker touch at a range of locations along the whisker. The frequency and amplitude of vibrations evoked by contact are strongly dependent on the position of contact along the whisker. The magnitude of vibrational shear force and bending moment is comparable to quasi-static forces. The fundamental vibration frequencies are in a detectable range for mechanoreceptor properties and below the maximum spike rates of primary sensory afferents. These results suggest two dynamic cues exist that rodents can use for object localization: vibration frequency and comparison of vibrational to quasi-static force magnitude. These complement the use of quasi-static force angle as a distance cue, particularly for touches close to the follicle, where whiskers are stiff and force angles hardly change during touch. Our approach also provides a general solution to calculation of whisker vibrations in other sensing tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Mice
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology
  • Vibration
  • Vibrissae / physiology*