Anatomical, stimulation and lesion data implicate vibrissa motor cortex in whisker motor control. Work on motor cortex has focused on movement generation, but correlations between vibrissa motor cortex activity and whisking are weak. The exact role of vibrissa motor cortex remains unknown. We recorded vibrissa motor cortex neurons during various forms of vibrissal touch, which were invariably associated with whisker protraction and movement. Free whisking, object palpation and social touch all resulted in decreased cortical activity. To understand this activity decrease, we performed juxtacellular recordings, nanostimulation and in vivo whole-cell recordings. Social touch resulted in decreased spiking activity, decreased cell excitability and membrane hyperpolarization. Activation of vibrissa motor cortex by intracortical microstimulation elicited whisker retraction, as if to abort vibrissal touch. Various vibrissa motor cortex inactivation protocols resulted in contralateral protraction and increased whisker movements. These data collectively point to movement suppression as a prime function of vibrissa motor cortex activity.
Ebbesen, C. L., Doron, G., Lenschow, C., & Brecht, M. (2017). Vibrissa motor cortex activity suppresses contralateral whisking behavior. Nature Neuroscience, 20(1), 82–89. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.4437