High-dimensional representation of texture in somatosensory cortex of primates

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Feb 19;116(8):3268-3277. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1818501116. Epub 2019 Feb 4.


In the somatosensory nerves, the tactile perception of texture is driven by spatial and temporal patterns of activation distributed across three populations of afferents. These disparate streams of information must then be integrated centrally to achieve a unified percept of texture. To investigate the representation of texture in somatosensory cortex, we scanned a wide range of natural textures across the fingertips of rhesus macaques and recorded the responses evoked in Brodmann's areas 3b, 1, and 2. We found that texture identity is reliably encoded in the idiosyncratic responses of populations of cortical neurons, giving rise to a high-dimensional representation of texture. Cortical neurons fall along a continuum in their sensitivity to fine vs. coarse texture, and neurons at the extrema of this continuum seem to receive their major input from different afferent populations. Finally, we show that cortical responses can account for several aspects of texture perception in humans.

Keywords: neurophysiology; perception; roughness; tactile fibers; touch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*