Cortical cellular encoding of thermotactile integration

Philipp Schnepel, Ricardo Paricio-Montesinos, Ivan Ezquerra-Romano, Patrick Haggard, James F.A. Poulet

Recent evidence suggests that primary sensory cortical regions play a role in the integration of information from multiple sensory modalities. How primary cortical neurons integrate different sources of sensory infor- mation is unclear, partly because non-primary sensory input to a cortical sensory region is often weak or modulatory. To address this question, we take advantage of the robust representation of thermal (cooling) and tactile stimuli in mouse forelimb primary somatosensory cortex (fS1). Using a thermotactile detection task, we show that the perception of threshold-level cool or tactile information is enhanced when they are presented simultaneously, compared with presentation alone. To investigate the cortical cellular correlates of thermotactile integration, we performed in vivo extracellular recordings from fS1 in awake resting and anesthetized mice during unimodal and bimodal stimulation of the forepaw. Unimodal stimulation evoked thermal- or tactile- specific excitatory and inhibitory responses of fS1 neurons. The most prominent features of combined thermotactile stimulation are the recruitment of unimodally silent fS1 neurons, non-linear inte- gration features, and response dynamics that favor longer response durations with additional spikes. Together, we identify quantitative and qualitative changes in cortical encoding that may underlie the improve- ment in perception of thermotactile surfaces during haptic exploration.

Curr Biol. 34,1718–1730 (2024)


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