Blockage of vibrissae afferents: I. Motor effects.

A. Prchal, A. L. Albarracin, E. E. Decima


In the past, it has been proposed that the rat vibrissae play an important role in other hand, postural abnormalities, muscle tone decreases and hypomotility after sensory organ destructions were proposed as evidence supporting the "level setting" or "tonic" hypothesis. This hypothesis postulates that afferent activity, besides its well know transductive functions, sets the excitability state of the central nervous system. We thought the vibrissal system to be a good model to dissect these two postulated roles because vibrissae trimming would annul the transductive function without affecting the integrity of nerve activity. Thus we compare the effects of trimming the whiskers with blocking the vibrissal afferent nerves on two types of motor behavior: activity in an open field and walking over a rope connecting two elevated platforms. We found that only vibrissal afferent blockage (both nerve section and local anaesthesia) produced severe failures in the motor performances studied. These effects could not be fully explained by the abolition of the vibrissae as a sensory modality because cutting the whiskers did not significantly affect the motor performance. These data are discussed in reference to a tonic or general excitatory function of sensory inputs upon the central nervous system.

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