Neocortical dynamics during whisker-based sensory discrimination in head-restrained mice

Fritjof Helmchen*, Ariel Gilad, Jerry L. Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


A fundamental task frequently encountered by brains is to rapidly and reliably discriminate between sensory stimuli of the same modality, be it distinct auditory sounds, odors, visual patterns, or tactile textures. A key mammalian brain structure involved in discrimination behavior is the neocortex. Sensory processing not only involves the respective primary sensory area, which is crucial for perceptual detection, but additionally relies on cortico-cortical communication among several regions including higher-order sensory areas as well as frontal cortical areas. It remains elusive how these regions exchange information to process neural representations of distinct stimuli to bring about a decision and initiate appropriate behavioral responses. Likewise, it is poorly understood how these neural computations are conjured during task learning. In this review, we discuss recent studies investigating cortical dynamics during discrimination behaviors that utilize head-fixed behavioral tasks in combination with in vivo electrophysiology, two-photon calcium imaging, and cell-type-specific targeting. We particularly focus on information flow in distinct cortico-cortical pathways when mice use their whiskers to discriminate between different objects or different locations. Within the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices (S1 and S2, respectively) as well as vibrissae motor cortex (M1), intermingled functional representations of touch, whisking, and licking were found, which partially re-organized during discrimination learning. These findings provide first glimpses of cortico-cortical communication but emphasize that for understanding the complete process of discrimination it will be crucial to elucidate the details of how neural processing is coordinated across brain-wide neuronal networks including the S1-S2-M1 triangle and cortical areas beyond.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)57-69
Number of pages13
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s)


  • calcium imaging
  • discrimination
  • mouse
  • neocortex
  • somatosensory


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