Active tactile exploration influences the functional maturation of the somatosensory system.
1. The hypothesis that active exploration of objects is required for the functional maturation of neuronal circuits subserving tactile perception was tested by subjecting 8- to 11-day old rats to a complete unilateral section of the facial nerve. This procedure selectively abolished whisker protraction movements without affecting the sensory innervation of the facial vibrissae, the tactile organs used by rats to discriminate object texture and shape. 2. Six to 14 mo after the facial nerve section, simultaneous recordings of neuronal ensembles located in the ventral posterior medial nucleus (VPM) of the thalamus revealed a marked reduction in receptive field (RF) size (in terms of number of whiskers), and the formation of abnormal RF surrounds, spanning the face and contiguous body regions. In addition, the directional organization of VPM RFs, represented by caudal to rostral shifts in RF centers over 30 ms following whisker stimulation, was greatly reduced in these animals. 3. These results suggest that neonatal active tactile exploration is required to establish normal spatiotemporal patterning of neuronal RFs within the somatosensory system, and consequently, to develop normal tactile perception.
Nicolelis, MA; De Oliveira, LM; Lin, RC; Chapin, JK
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