Divergent movement of adjacent whiskers

Journal of Neurophysiology
Robert SachdevFord F Ebner

Abstract

The current view of whisker movement is that approximately 25 whiskers on each side of the face move in synchrony. To determine whether whiskers are constrained to move together, we trained rats to use two whiskers on the same side of the face in simple behavioral tasks and videotaped the whiskers during the task. Here we report that the movement of adjacent whiskers is usually synchronous but can diverge: 1) the distance between whiskers can vary dramatically during movement; 2) one whisker can move while the second one remains stationary; 3) two whiskers can simultaneously move in opposite directions; and 4) one whisker can be maintained in contact with an object while the other is retracted and protracted. The frequency of whisker movement during the task falls within the previously reported range for rats whisking freely into air or performing roughness discrimination with their whiskers. Our data also suggest that whisker movement can be divided into three distinct phases: protraction, retraction, and a measurable delay between these movements. We conclude that, although whiskers often move in concert, adjacent caudal whiskers can be moved independently of each other.

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