Tactile nerve fibers fall into a few classes that can be readily distinguished based on their spatiotemporal response properties. Because nerve fibers reflect local skin deformations, they individually carry ambiguous signals about object features. In contrast, cortical neurons exhibit heterogeneous response properties that reflect computations applied to convergent input from multiple classes of afferents, which confer to them a selectivity for behaviorally relevant features of objects. The conventional view is that these complex response properties arise within the cortex itself, implying that sensory signals are not processed to any significant extent in the two intervening structures—the cuneate nucleus (CN) and the thalamus. To test this hypothesis, we recorded the responses evoked in the CN to a battery of stimuli that have been extensively used to characterize tactile coding in both the periphery and cortex, including skin indentations, vibrations, random dot patterns, and scanned edges. We found that CN responses are more similar to their cortical counterparts than they are to their inputs: CN neurons receive input from multiple classes of nerve fibers, they have spatially complex receptive fields, and they exhibit selectivity for object features. Contrary to consensus, then, the CN plays a key role in processing tactile information.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - Dec 7 2021|
- Neural coding
- Receptive fields
ASJC Scopus subject areas