Pre-neuronal morphological processing of object location by individual whiskers

Knarik Bagdasarian, Marcin Szwed, Per Magne Knutsen, Dudi Deutsch, Dori Derdikman, MacIej Pietr, Erez Simony, Ehud Ahissar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the vibrissal system, touch information is conveyed by a receptorless whisker hair to follicle mechanoreceptors, which then provide input to the brain. We examined whether any processing, that is, meaningful transformation, occurs in the whisker itself. Using high-speed videography and tracking the movements of whiskers in anesthetized and behaving rats, we found that whisker-related morphological phase planes, based on angular and curvature variables, can represent the coordinates of object position after contact in a reliable manner, consistent with theoretical predictions. By tracking exposed follicles, we found that the follicle-whisker junction is rigid, which enables direct readout of whisker morphological coding by mechanoreceptors. Finally, we found that our behaving rats pushed their whiskers against objects during localization in a way that induced meaningful morphological coding and, in parallel, improved their localization performance, which suggests a role for pre-neuronal morphological computation in active vibrissal touch.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)622-631
Number of pages10
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank D. Goldian and S. Haidarliu for technical assistance, N. Rubin for programming, B. Schick for reviewing, M. Hartmann and J. Solomon for critically reading the manuscript and for extensive and helpful discussions, and C. Moore, J. Ritt, L. Gomez, S. Barash and G. Bi for helpful suggestions. The article is dedicated to our late friend and colleague Maciej Pietr for his significant contribution to this work. This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant 749/10), the Minerva Foundation funded by the Federal German Ministry for Education and Research, the United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation (grant 2011432), the Ministry of Science and Technology (Israel), the Ministry of Research (Taiwan), and the Chief Scientist, Israeli Ministry of Health. K.B. acknowledges support by the KAMEA program administered by the Ministry of Absorption (Israel). P.M.K. was supported by a Long-Term Fellowship from the Human Frontier Science Program. E.A. holds the Helen Diller Family Professorial Chair of Neurobiology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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