Gradient of tactile properties in the rat whisker pad

Erez Gugig, Hariom Sharma, Rony Azouz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The array of vibrissae on a rat’s face is the first stage in a high-resolution tactile sensing system. Progressing from rostral to caudal in any vibrissae row results in an increase in whisker length and thickness. This may, in turn, provide a systematic map of separate tactile channels governed by the mechanical properties of the whiskers. To examine whether this map is expressed in a location-dependent transformation of tactile signals into whisker vibrations and neuronal responses, we monitored whiskers’ movements across various surfaces and edges. We found a robust rostral-caudal (R-C) gradient of tactile information transmission in which rostral shorter vibrissae displayed a higher sensitivity and bigger differences in response to different textures, whereas longer caudal vibrissae were less sensitive. This gradient is evident in several dynamic properties of vibrissae trajectories. As rodents sample the environment with multiple vibrissae, we found that combining tactile signals from multiple vibrissae resulted in an increased sensitivity and bigger differences in response to the different textures. Nonetheless, we found that texture identity is not represented spatially across the whisker pad. Based on the responses of first-order sensory neurons, we found that they adhere to the tactile information conveyed by the vibrissae. That is, neurons innervating rostral vibrissae were better suited for texture discrimination, whereas neurons innervating caudal vibrissae were more suited for edge detection. These results suggest that the whisker array in rodents forms a sensory structure in which different facets of tactile information are transmitted through location-dependent gradient of vibrissae on the rat’s face.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3000699
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 22 Oct 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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