Sampling time and performance in rat whisker sensory system

James S. McDonald, Mehdi Adibi, Colin W.G. Clifford, Ehsan Arabzadeh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


We designed a behavioural paradigm for vibro-tactile detection to characterise the sampling time and performance in the rat whisker sensory system. Rats initiated a trial by nose-poking into an aperture where their whiskers came into contact with two meshes. A continuous nose-poke for a random duration triggered stimulus presentation. Stimuli were a sequence of discrete Gaussian deflections of the mesh that increased in amplitude over time - across 5 conditions, time to maximum amplitude varied from 0.5 to 8 seconds. Rats indicated the detected stimulus by choosing between two reward spouts. Two rats completed more than 500 trials per condition. Rats' stimulus sampling duration increased and performance dropped with increasing task difficulty. For all conditions the median reaction time was longer for correct trials than incorrect trials. Higher rates of increment in stimulus amplitude resulted in faster rise in performance as a function of stimulus sampling duration. Rats' behaviour indicated a dynamic stimulus sampling whereby nose-poke was maintained until a stimulus was correctly identified or the rat experienced a false alarm. The perception was then manifested in behaviour after a motor delay. We thus modelled the results with 3 parameters: signal detection, false alarm, and motor delay. The model captured the main features of the data and produced parameter estimates that were biologically plausible and highly similar across the two rats.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere116357
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes

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