A unifying framework underlying mechanotransduction in the somatosensory system

Rodents use their whiskers to sense their surroundings. As most of the information available to the somatosensory system originates in whiskers’ primary afferents, it is essential to understand the transformation of whisker motion into neuronal activity. Here, we combined in vivo recordings in anesthetized rats with mathematical modeling to ascertain the mechanical and electrical characteristics of mechanotransduction. We found that only two synergistic processes, which reflect the dynamic interactions between (1) receptor and whisker and (2) receptor and surrounding tissue, are needed to describe mechanotransduction during passive whiskers deflection. Interactions between these processes may account for stimulus-dependent changes in the magnitude and temporal pattern of tactile responses on multiple scales. Thus, we are able to explain complex electromechanical processes underlying sensory transduction using a simple model, which captures the responses of a wide range of mechanoreceptor types to diverse sensory stimuli. This compact and precise model allows for a ubiquitous description of how mechanoreceptors encode tactile stimulus.

Authors: Lottem, E, Azouz R.
Year of publication: 2011
Journal: J Neurosci.

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