The dorsal column nuclei (DCN) of the brainstem contain secondary afferent neurons, which process ascending somatosensory information. Most of the known physiology of the DCN in primates has been acquired in acute experiments with anesthetized animals. Here, we developed a technique to implant a multielectrode array (MEA) chronically in the DCN of macaque monkeys to enable experiments with the animals awake. Two monkeys were implanted with brainstem MEAs for 2-5 months with no major adverse effects. Responses of the cuneate and gracile nuclei were quantified at the level of both field potentials and single units. Tactile receptive fields (RFs) were identified for 315 single units. A subset of these units had very regular spiking patterns with spike frequencies predominantly in the alpha band (8-14 Hz). The stability of the neuronal recordings was assessed with a novel analysis that identified units by their mean spike waveform and by the spike-triggered average of activity on all other electrodes in the array. 56 identified neurons were observed over two or more sessions, and in a few cases for as long as a month. RFs of stable neurons were largely consistent across days. The results demonstrate that a chronic DCN implant in a macaque can be safe and effective, yielding high-quality unit recording for several months. The unprecedented access to these nuclei in awake primates should lead to a better understanding of their role in sensorimotor behavior.
- Copyright © 2015, Journal of Neurophysiology