Coding of apparent motion in the thalamic nucleus of the rat vibrissal somatosensory system. Article - Mars 2012

Valérie Ego-Stengel, Julie Le Cam, Daniel Shulz

Valérie Ego-Stengel, Julie Le Cam, Daniel Shulz, « Coding of apparent motion in the thalamic nucleus of the rat vibrissal somatosensory system.  », Journal of Neuroscience, mars 2012, pp. 3339-51. ISSN 0270-6474


While exploring objects, rats make multiple contacts using their whiskers, thereby generating complex patterns of sensory information. The cerebral structures that process this information in the somatosensory system show discrete patterns of anatomically distinct units, each corresponding to one whisker. Moreover, the feedforward and feedback connections are remarkably topographic, with little cross-whisker divergence before reaching the cortical network. Despite this parallel design, information processing from several whiskers has been reported in subcortical nuclei. Here, we explored whether sensory neurons in the ventral posterior medial nucleus (VPM) of the thalamus encode emergent properties of complex multiwhisker stimulations. Using a 24-whisker stimulator, we tested the responses of VPM neurons to sequences of caudal deflections that generated an apparent motion in eight different directions across the whiskerpad. Overall, 45% of neurons exhibited an evoked increase in firing rate significantly selective to the direction of apparent motion of the global stimulus. Periods of suppression of firing rate were often observed, but were generally not selective. Global motion selectivity of VPM neurons could occur regardless of the extent and spatial organization of their receptive fields, and of their selectivity for the direction of motion of their principal whisker. To investigate whether the global selectivity could be due to corticothalamic feedback connections, we inactivated the barrel cortex while repeating the stimulation protocol. For most VPM neurons, the direction selectivity decreased but was still present. These results suggest that nonlinear processing of stimuli from different whiskers emerges in subcortical nuclei and is amplified by the corticofugal feedback.

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