This study investigated the hypothesis that a simple intensive code, based on mean firing rate, could explain the cortical representation of subjective roughness intensity and its invariance with scanning speed. We examined the sensitivity of neurons in the cutaneous, finger representation of primary somatosensory cortex (S1) to a wide range of textures [1 mm high, raised-dot surfaces; spatial periods (SPs), 1.5–8.5 mm], scanned under the digit tips at different speeds (40–115 mm/s). Since subjective roughness estimates show a monotonic increase over this range and are independent of speed, we predicted that the mean firing rate of a subgroup of S1 neurons would share these properties. Single-unit recordings were made in four alert macaques (areas 3b, 1 and 2). Cells whose discharge rate showed a monotonic increase with SP, independent of speed, were particularly concentrated in area 3b. Area 2 was characterized by a high proportion of cells sensitive to speed, with or without texture sensitivity. Area 1 had intermediate properties. We suggest that area 3b and most likely area 1 play a key role in signaling roughness intensity, and that a mean rate code, signaled by both slowly and rapidly adapting neurons, is present at the level of area 3b. Finally, the substantial proportion of neurons that showed a monotonic change in discharge limited to a small range of SPs (often independent of response saturation) could play a role in discriminating smaller changes in SP.
- tactile roughness
- neuronal coding
- passive touch
- hierarchical processing
- Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society
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