Sci Adv. 2020 Sep 16;6(38):eabb7189. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abb7189. Print 2020 Sep.
In rat barrel cortex, feature encoding schemes uncovered during broadband whisker stimulation are hard to reconcile with the simple stick-slip code observed during natural tactile behaviors, and this has hindered the development of a generalized computational framework. By designing broadband artificial stimuli to sample the inputs encoded under natural conditions, we resolve this disparity while markedly increasing the percentage of deep layer neurons found to encode whisker movements, as well as the diversity of these encoded features. Deep layer neurons encode two main types of events, sticks and sweeps, corresponding to high angular velocity bumps and large angular displacements with high velocity, respectively. Neurons can exclusively encode sticks or sweeps, or they can encode both, with or without direction selectivity. Beyond unifying coding theories from naturalistic and artificial stimulation studies, these findings delineate a simple and generalizable set of whisker movement features that can support a range of perceptual processes.