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Publication Summary and Abstract

Grant RA, Sperber A. & Prescott TJ (2012), The Role of Orienting in Vibrissal Touch Sensing, Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, 6:39.

Rodents, such as rats and mice, are strongly tactile animals who explore the environment with their long mobile facial whiskers, or macrovibrissae, and orient to explore objects further with their shorter, more densely-packed, microvibrissae. Although whisker motion (whisking) has been extensively studied, less is know about how rodents orient their vibrissal system to investigate unexpected stimuli. We describe two studies. In the first we seek to characterise how adult rats orient towards unexpected macrovibrissal contacts with objects and examine the microvibrissal exploration behaviour following such contacts. We show that rats orient to the nearest macrovibrissal contact on an unexpected object, progressively homing in on the nearest contact point on the object in each subsequent whisk. Following contact, rats “dab” against the object with their microvibrissae at an average rate of 8hz, which suggests synchronization of microvibrissal dabbing with macrovibrissal motion, and an amplitude of 5mm. In study two we examine the role of orienting to tactile contacts in developing rat pups for maintaining aggregations (huddles). We show that young pups are able to orient to contacts with nearby conspecifics before their eyes open. Overall, these data suggest that orienting to tactile cues, detected by the vibrissal system, plays a crucial role throughout the life of a rat.
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