Conditioned whisking in the rat

Somatosens Mot Res. 1996;13(3-4):225-33. doi: 10.3109/08990229609052578.


The rat's mystacial vibrissae are active during exploratory and discriminative behaviors, with individual vibrissae serving as elements in a receptive array scanned across object surfaces. To facilitate neurobehavioral analysis of this sensorimotor system, we have developed an experimental paradigm that confines vibrissa movements to a defined physical location, makes possible on-line monitoring of "whisking" activity, and brings such activity under associative control using operant conditioning procedures. Rats were secured, and movements of an identified bilaterally homologous pair of vibrissae (right and left gamma straddlers) were detected by laser-based photodetectors. Subjects were maintained on a water deprivation schedule, and whisker movements were monitored during adaptation to the test situation and after the clipping of other vibrissae on both sides of the snout. Rats were reinforced with water delivery for emitting vibrissa movements in the presence of a conditioned stimulus (tone) whose presentation was made contingent upon a prior period of nonwhisking. The rate and temporal distribution of vibrissa movements were brought under experimental control by means of interval and ratio reinforcement schedules. Although the procedures provide minimal information about the kinematics or topography of conditioned vibrissa movements, they permit the investigator to manipulate response parameters normally under the voluntary control of the animal in a preparation amenable to neurophysiological analysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Association Learning / physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Motivation
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Vibrissae / innervation*