Quantitative studies of stimulus coding in first-order vibrissa afferents of rats. 1. Receptive field properties and threshold distributions

Somatosens Res. 1983;1(1):51-67. doi: 10.3109/07367228309144540.


We examined stimulus-response relationships of vibrissa-activated mechanosensory neurons of the rat's fifth (trigeminal) ganglion. Single-unit activity was recorded with tungsten microelectrodes. The vibrissae were deflected with a variety of parametrically controlled stimulus waveforms. We found that the receptive field of each vibrissa-activated neuron consisted of a single vibrissa. Few, if any, unambiguous examples of spontaneous activity were observed in these neurons. Even if true spontaneous activity was present, its observed incidence was low, as were the measured discharge rates. Thresholds of individual neurons were usually quite discrete; often a 1-2% increase in pulse magnitude (angular displacement) above a level to which the neuron did not respond caused it to discharge on every trial. The distribution of thresholds for the sample was continuous with a median of about 1 degree and a range of over three orders of magnitude. The most sensitive neurons responded to deflections of less than 0.1 degrees. Many neurons responded to a single suprathreshold pulse with more than one spike. We found no consistent relationships among the thresholds of the additional evoked discharges of an individual neuron other than that the total number of evoked spikes either increased or stayed the same, but never decreased, as stimulus magnitude increased. About one-third of the neurons examined had velocity thresholds below 3 degrees/sec. Above that value, thresholds were distributed continuously throughout a range of over three orders of magnitude. The median velocity threshold was about 100 degrees/sec. The broad and continuous distributions of both magnitude and velocity thresholds suggest that a population of vibrissa-activated neurons can code stimulus strength smoothly and continuously over a wide range, even though individual neurons may be poorly suited to do so.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory
  • Female
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology
  • Vibrissae / physiology*