Somatosensory Virtual Reality Environment

The mouse’s whiskers are sensitive detectors for acquiring tactile information. Rodents can map their environment, locate objects, and discriminate textures far better with their whiskers than with sight. The whisker system is also ideal for studying cortical sensory information processing because of the one-to-one relationship to cortical “barrels”. For understanding this system however, it is crucial to take in to account that cortical activity differs between anesthetized and awake states and is also powerfully modulated by the animal’s interaction with its environment. The most successful strategy for performing awake recordings with single-cell resolution still uses head-fixed rodents. For this reason, virtual reality environments, in which a mouse is head-fixed but can still interact with its environment has recently attracted much attention. So far, however, the environment of choice has been heavily dominated by the visual modality. Here we propose to develop a tactile based virtual reality system to explore, in fine detail, information processing in barrel cortex in awake, navigating and decision-making mice. A mouse will be head-fixed on a floating Styrofoam ball in a tunnel-like environment in which tunnel walls will be simulated via direct somatosensory feedback to the whiskers. Using a computer-based feedback system, mouse movement will cause movement of simulated tunnel walls via piezoelectric actuators, creating an illusion of movement for the mouse. Direct intracellular recordings and optical imaging will be used to build a model of neural coding used in the barrel cortex to represent a sensory environment. We will take advantage of our expertise in developing virtual environments, rodent behavior (Y. Winter), neural coding (M. London) and cortical recording methods (M. Larkum) to go even further. The system will enable the exploration of cortical dynamics during more naturalistic and experience-based behaviours.

Principal investigators
Winter, York Prof. Dr. (Details) (Cognitive Neurobiology)

Participating external organisations

Einstein Stiftung Berlin

Duration of project
Start date: 04/2013
End date: 03/2016

Last updated on 2022-08-09 at 19:07