Sensory Adaptation in the Whisker-Mediated Tactile System: Physiology, Theory, and Function

Mehdi Adibi, Ilan Lampl

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In the natural environment, organisms are constantly exposed to a continuous stream of sensory input. The dynamics of sensory input changes with organism's behaviour and environmental context. The contextual variations may induce >100-fold change in the parameters of the stimulation that an animal experiences. Thus, it is vital for the organism to adapt to the new diet of stimulation. The response properties of neurons, in turn, dynamically adjust to the prevailing properties of sensory stimulation, a process known as “neuronal adaptation.” Neuronal adaptation is a ubiquitous phenomenon across all sensory modalities and occurs at different stages of processing from periphery to cortex. In spite of the wealth of research on contextual modulation and neuronal adaptation in visual and auditory systems, the neuronal and computational basis of sensory adaptation in somatosensory system is less understood. Here, we summarise the recent finding and views about the neuronal adaptation in the rodent whisker-mediated tactile system and further summarise the functional effect of neuronal adaptation on the response dynamics and encoding efficiency of neurons at single cell and population levels along the whisker-mediated touch system in rodents. Based on direct and indirect pieces of evidence presented here, we suggest sensory adaptation provides context-dependent functional mechanisms for noise reduction in sensory processing, salience processing and deviant stimulus detection, shift between integration and coincidence detection, band-pass frequency filtering, adjusting neuronal receptive fields, enhancing neural coding and improving discriminability around adapting stimuli, energy conservation, and disambiguating encoding of principal features of tactile stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Article number770011
Number of pages23
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2021


  • information theory
  • neural coding
  • neural network
  • neuronal adaptation
  • noise correlation
  • rodent
  • somatosensory
  • whisker system

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