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Passive vs. active touch-induced activity in the developing whisker pathway


Mark F. Jacquin, as above.


The mouse trigeminal (V) system undergoes significant postnatal structural and functional developmental changes. Histological modules (barrelettes, barreloids and barrels) in the brainstem, thalamus and cortex related to actively moved (whisking) tactile hairs (vibrissae) on the face allow detailed studies of development. High-resolution [3H]2-deoxyglucose (2DG) emulsion autoradiography with cytochrome oxidase histochemistry was used to analyze neuronal activity changes related to specific whisker modules in the developing and mature mouse V system provoked by passive (experimenter-induced) and active (animal-induced) displacements of a single whisker (D4). We tested the hypothesis that neuronal activity patterns change in relation to the onset of active touch (whisking) on postnatal day (P)14. Quantitative image analyses revealed: (i) on P7, when whisker-like patterns of modules are clear, heightened 2DG activity in all appropriate modules in the brainstem, thalamus and cortex; (ii) on P14, a transitory activity pattern coincident with the emergence of whisking behavior that presages (iii) strong labeling of the spinal V subnucleus interpolaris and barrel cortex produced by single-whisker-mediated active touch in adults and (iv) at all above-listed ages and structures, significant suppression of baseline activity in some modules surrounding those representing the stimulated whisker. Differences in activity patterns before and after the onset of whisking behavior may be caused by neuronal activity induced by whisking, and by strengthening of modulatory projections that alter the activity of subcortical inputs produced by whisking behavior during active touch.