Mechanical signals at the base of a rat vibrissa: The effect of intrinsic vibrissa curvature and implications for tactile exploration

Brian W. Quist, Mitra J Z Hartmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations

Abstract

Rats actively tap and sweep their large mystacial vibrissae (whiskers) against objects to tactually explore their surroundings. When a vibrissa makes contact with an object, it bends, and this bending generates forces and bending moments at the vibrissa base. Researchers have only recently begun to quantify these mechanical variables. The present study quantifies the forces and bending moments at the vibrissa base with a quasi-static model of vibrissa deflection. The model was validated with experiments on real vibrissae. Initial simulations demonstrated that almost all vibrissa-object collisions during natural behavior will occur with the concave side of the vibrissa facing the object, and we therefore paid particular attention to the role of the vibrissa's intrinsic curvature in shaping the forces at the base. Both simulations and experiments showed that vibrissae with larger intrinsic curvatures will generate larger axial forces. Simulations also demonstrated that the range of forces and moments at the vibrissal base vary over approximately three orders of magnitude, depending on the location along the vibrissa at which object contact is made. Both simulations and experiments demonstrated that collisions in which the concave side of the vibrissa faces the object generate longer-duration contacts and larger net forces than collisions with the convex side. These results suggest that the orientation of the vibrissa's intrinsic curvature on the mystacial pad may increase forces during object contact and provide increased sensitivity to detailed surface features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2298-2312
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Volume107
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2012

Keywords

  • Active sensing
  • Active touch
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Somatosensory system
  • Trigeminal ganglion
  • Whisker

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • General Neuroscience

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