Quantification of vibrissal mechanical properties across the rat mystacial pad

Anne En Tzu Yang, Hayley M. Belli, Mitra J.Z. Hartmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Recent work has quantified the geometric parameters of individual rat vibrissae (whiskers) and developed equations that describe how these parameters vary as a function of row and column position across the array. This characterization included a detailed quantification of whisker base diameter and arc length as well as the geometry of the whisker medulla. The present study now uses these equations for whisker geometry to quantify several properties of the whisker that govern its mechanical behavior. We first show that the average density of a whisker is lower in its proximal region than in its distal region. This density variation appears to be largely attributable to the presence of the whisker cuticle rather than the medulla. The density variation has very little effect on the center of mass of the whisker. We next show that the presence of the medulla decreases the deflection of the whisker under its own weight and also decreases its mass moment of inertia while sacrificing <1% stiffness at the whisker base compared with a solid whisker. Finally, we quantify two dimensionless parameters across the array. First, the deflection-to-length ratio decreases from caudal to rostral: caudal whiskers are longer but deflect more under their own weight. Second, the nondimensionalized radius of gyration is approximately constant across the array, which may simplify control of whisking by the intrinsic muscles. We anticipate that future work will exploit the mechanical properties computed in the present study to improve simulations of the mechanosensory signals associated with vibrissotactile exploratory behavior. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The mechanical signals transmitted by a whisker depend critically on its geometry. We used measurements of whisker geometry and mass to quantify the center of mass, mass moment of inertia, radius of gyration, and deflection under gravity of the whisker. We describe how variations in these quantities across the array could enhance sensing behaviors while reducing energy costs and simplifying whisking control. Most importantly, we provide derivations for these quantities for use in future simulation work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1879-1895
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Active sensing
  • Behavior
  • Touch
  • Trigeminal
  • Whisker

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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