The function of rodents’ whisker somatosensory system is to transform tactile cues, in the form of vibrissa vibrations, into neuronal responses. It is well established that rodents can detect numerous tactile stimuli and tell them apart. However, the transformation of tactile stimuli obtained through whisker movements to neuronal responses is not well-understood. Here we examine the role of whisker velocity in tactile information transmission and its coding mechanisms. We show that in anaesthetized rats, whisker velocity is related to the radial distance of the object contacted and its own velocity. Whisker velocity is accurately and reliably coded in first-order neurons in parallel, by both the relative time interval between velocity-independent first spike latency of rapidly adapting neurons and velocity-dependent first spike latency of slowly adapting neurons. At the same time, whisker velocity is also coded, although less robustly, by the firing rates of slowly adapting neurons. Comparing first- and second-order neurons, we find similar decoding efficiencies for whisker velocity using either temporal or rate-based methods. Both coding schemes are sufficiently robust and hardly affected by neuronal noise. Our results suggest that whisker kinematic variables are coded by two parallel coding schemes and are disseminated in a similar way through various brain stem nuclei to multiple brain areas.
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- Brain stem