A comparison of neuronal and behavioral detection and discrimination performances in rat whisker system

Mehdi Adibi, Ehsan Arabzadeh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


We used the rat whisker touch as a model system to investigate the correlation between the response function of cortical neurons and the behavior of rats in a sensory detection versus discrimination task. The rat whisker-barrel system is structurally well characterized and represents one of the main channels through which rodents collect information about the environment. In experiment 1, we recorded neuronal activity (n = 235) in the whisker area of the rat somatosensory cortex in anesthetized rats while applying vibrotactile stimuli of varying amplitudes to the whiskers. Neurons showed a characteristic sigmoidal input-output function, with an accelerating nonlinearity at low stimulus amplitudes and a compressive nonlinearity at high stimulus amplitudes. We further quantified the performance of individual neurons for stimulus detection and for discrimination across different stimulus pairs with identical amplitude differences. For near-threshold stimuli, the neuronal discrimination performance surpassed the detection performance despite the fact that detection and discrimination represented identical amplitude differences. This is consistent with the accelerating nonlinearity observed at low stimulus intensities. In the second stage of the experiment, four rats were trained to select the higher-amplitude stimulus between two vibrations applied to their whiskers. Similar to neuronal results, the rats' performance was better for the discrimination task compared with the detection task. The behavioral performance followed the same trend as that of the population of individual neurons. Both behavioral and neuronal data are consistent with the "pedestal effect" previously reported in human psychophysics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-365
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

Cite this