, Volume 453, Issue 3, pp 269-281
Date: 31 May 2006

Cellular mechanisms of motor control in the vibrissal system

Abstract

In this article we discuss the experimental advantages that the vibrissal motor system offers for analysis of motor control and the specializations of this system related to the unique characteristics of whisker movements. Whisker movements are often rhythmic, fast, and bilateral. Movements of individual whiskers have simple characteristics, whereas, movements of the entire vibrissae array are complex and sophisticated. In the last few years, powerful methods for high precision tracking of whisker movements have become available. The whisker musculature is arranged to permit forward movements of individual whiskers and consists—depending on the species—mainly or exclusively of fast contracting, fast fatigable muscle fibers. Whisker motor neurons are located in the lateral facial nucleus and their cellular properties might contribute to the rhythmicity of whisking. Numerous structures provide input to the lateral facial nucleus, the most mysterious and important one being the putative central pattern generator (CPG). Although recent studies identified candidate structures for the CPG, the precise identity and the functional organization of this structure remains uncertain. The vibrissa motor cortex (VMC) is the largest motor representation in the rodent brain, and recent work has clarified its localization, subdivisions, cytoarchitectonics, and connectivity. Single-cell stimulation experiments in VMC allow determining the cellular basis of cortical motor control with unprecedented precision. The functional significance of whisker movements remains to be determined.