Sensory Inputs from Whisking Movements Modify Cortical Whisker Maps Visualized with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Rodents vary the frequency of whisking movements during exploratory and discriminatory behaviors. The effect of whisking frequency on whisker cortical maps was investigated by simulating whisking at physiological frequencies and imaging the whisker representations with blood oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging. Repetitive deflection of many right-sided whiskers at 10 Hz evoked a positive BOLD response that extended across contralateral primary somatosensory cortex (SI) and secondary somatosensory cortex (SII). In contrast, synchronous deflection of 2 adjacent whiskers (right C1 and C2) at 10 Hz evoked separate positive BOLD responses in contralateral SI and SII that were predominantly located in upper cortical layers. The positive BOLD responses were separated and partially surrounded by a negative BOLD response that was mainly in lower cortical layers. Two-whisker representations varied with the frequency of simulated whisking. Positive BOLD responses were largest with 7-Hz deflection. Negative BOLD responses were robust at 10 Hz but were weaker or absent with 7-Hz or 3-Hz deflection. Our findings suggest that sensory inputs attributable to the frequency of whisking movements modify whisker cortical representations.

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