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Somatosensory and Motor Research
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Barrels XIX Meeting Report
Raddy L. Ramos
; Joshua C. Brumberg
Department of Psychology, Queens College, CUNY, NY, USA
First Published on: 01 September 2007
To cite this Article: Ramos, Raddy L. and Brumberg, Joshua C. (2007) 'Barrels XIX
Meeting Report', Somatosensory and Motor Research, 24:3, 135 - 138
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/08990220701538562
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Somatosensory and Motor Research, September 2007; 24(3): 135–138
Barrels XIX Meeting Report
Department of Psychology, Queens College, CUNY, NY, USA
The 19th annual Barrels Meeting (Barrels XIX)
was hosted by the Neuroscience Institute at
the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta,
Georgia on 12th and 13th of October 2006. The
meeting brought together over 125 researchers from
ten different countries to discuss the anatomy,
physiology, and behavior of the rodent whisker-to-
barrel pathway as well as its associated neuronal
The meeting began with a session focused on
the neuronal activity patterns evoked by whisker
deflections. Dr Mathew Diamond (SISSA, Trieste,
Italy) focused on the effect that temporal noise had
on action potential discharges in the barrel cortex.
Noise was defined in the temporal domain such that
the overall stimulation rate was fixed at a specific
rate, for example, 10 or 20 Hz but the interval
between stimuli was varied accordingly. It was found
that as the noise increased there was less adaptation
to the stimulus presentation and the magnitude and
temporal precision of the cortical response increased.
It was suggested that the noise in the stimulus may
play an adaptive role in setting the gain of the
whisker-to-barrel system with low frequency noise
resulting in low velocity sensitivity whereas high
frequency noise makes the system more sensitive to
high velocity stimuli. Dr Daniel Barth (University of
Colorado) followed with a talk that demonstrated
the existence of fast oscillations within the barrel
system and that they served as coincident detectors
for inputs from multiple whiskers. Similar to classic
single unit studies conducted by Daniel Simons
and colleagues, field potential recordings show
suppressive effects between adjacent whiskers which
act to sharpen the temporal window in which
coincidence detection can occur. Interestingly,
there were no differences in summation between
within arc vs. within row interactions suggesting that
the barrel cortex may function as a two-dimensional
integrative array. The session was concluded by
Dr Mitra Hartmann (Northwestern University) who
asked the question, what aspect(s) of tactile stimuli
is/are encoded by the whisker? Using a combination
of robotic, computational, and neurophysiological
approaches Dr Hartmann argues that moment (often
called torque) and the rate of change of moment are
crucial for three-dimensional feature extraction of an
object by a rodent’s whiskers.
The past year saw the passing of Peter Land
(University of Pittsburgh) a respected member of the
Barrels community. Daniel Simons (University of
Pittsburgh) a longtime friend and collaborator
reminded the community of Peter Land’s research
accomplishments with special emphasis on his work
in studying the development of the barrel system.
Peter will be remembered fondly for his enthusiasm
not only for scientific research but for experiencing
life to its fullest extent.
A series of short talks highlighted the diversity of
responses seen within the barrel system in vivo
following whisker deflections. Vincent Jacob
(CNRS, Gif-sur-Yvette, France) presented results
from intracellular in vivo recordings from barrel
cortex while simultaneously stimulating up to 25
whiskers on the contralateral mystacial pad. Using a
sparse noise stimuli, Jacob and his colleagues were
able to construct spatiotemporal receptive fields for
each neuron and found that most neurons had multi-
whisker receptive fields and were sensitive to the
temporal ordering of whisker contacts. Does a single
neuron’s firing have an effect on sensory
processing? To address this question, Arthur
Howeling and Michael Brecht (Erasmus, the
Correspondence: J. C. Brumberg, Department of Psychology, Queens College, CUNNY, 65–30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, NY, 11367, USA. Tel: þ1 718
997 3541. Fax: þ1 718 997 3257. E-mail:
ISSN 0899–0220 print/ISSN 1369–1651 online ß 2007 Informa UK Ltd.
DOI: 10.1080/08990220701538562
Downloaded By: [University of Connecticut] At: 01:53 26 January 2008
Netherlands) used a head-fixed awake-behaving
preparation to show that in vivo juxtacellular micro-
stimulation of individual barrel neurons could elicit
a sensation measure via tongue lick responses.
Soo-Hyun Lee (University of Pittsburgh) showed
that activation of primary motor cortex (M1) can
result in expression of sensory-evoked receptive fields
in antidromically activated corticothalamic neurons
that under control conditions did not display
suprathreshold responses. Finally, Shubo
Chakrabarti (Pennsylvania State University College
of Medicine) demonstrated that primary motor
cortex neurons, especially those in the deeper layer,
demonstrate short-latency responses to whisker
stimulation. Inactivation of S1 and S2 led to a
decrease in the magnitude of the M1 response
suggesting that these areas provide feedforward
inputs to M1.
In another series of short talks, the growing
emphasis on the intrinsic biomechanics of the
vibrissae was highlighted. Jason Wolfe (University
of California San Diego) showed that during active
whisking in air, whiskers demonstrate different
resonances that are not due to air currents or head
motion. Furthermore, during active whisking
of textured surfaces (sandpaper) it was seen that
stick-slip whisker events were observed, though the
nature of the frequency of the whisker responses did
not vary as a function of the roughness of the texture.
These results suggest that during whisking in air vs.
contact with stimuli, the whisker is in an undamped
vs. damped regime, respectively. Jason Ritt
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology) using
high speed videography, further demonstrated
the existence of stick-slip events when whiskers
contacted a surface. The result of such events was a
‘‘ringing’’ of the whisker whose frequency was
proportional to the reciprocal of the whisker length
squared. These observations suggested that the
conventional stimuli used to probe receptive fields
in anesthetized preparations have significantly lower
velocities than is observed during active whisking
epochs. Dan Hill (University of California
San Diego) showed that a sequence of extrinsic and
then intrinsic muscles govern the whisking cycle and
that there are three distinct phases of muscle activity.
The first phase is characterized by retraction and is
mediated by the extrinsic muscles (M. nasolabialis
and M. maxillolabialis). The second and third phases
are characterized by protractions and are governed
by the extrinsic muscle M. nasalis followed by
the intrinsic muscles. Tony Prescott (University
of Sheffield, UK) showed that rats can perform
asymmetric whisking in cases where one mystacial
pad contacts an object and remains relatively still
while the whiskers on the opposite side of the
face continue to move. Using their videographic/
behavioral results, they were able to construct
a robotic rodent (whiskerbot) that could whisk
and orientate to objects. Carl Peterson
(Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne,
Switzerland) using a combination of in vivo whole-
cell recordings and voltage sensitive dye imaging
showed that single whisker deflections can result in
the activation of the large majority of the cortical
plate. Activation was first observed in S1 followed
at short latency by responses in M1 which may
drive future whisker movements or head orienting
responses. Finally, Venkatesh Gopal (Northwestern
University) detailed the construction of the
‘‘Whole Rat Catalog’’, a complete three-dimensional
reconstruction of the rat face including the position,
shapes, and orientations of all whiskers. Such
a database was offered as a way of understanding
the movement and orientation of the whiskers and
head during behaviors involving the whiskers
or olfactory stimuli. The meeting continued with
a poster session whose abstracts follow this report.
The second day of Barrels XIX began with a talk
by Steve Hsiao ( Johns Hopkins University) provid-
ing data from single unit recording studies in awake,
behaving monkeys. Within the periphery, sensory
afferents do not convey any information about
stimulus orientation. In contrast, S1 neurons were
shown to be well tuned for orientation and data from
neural recordings were well matched to identified
psychometric thresholds. In S2, three maps exist with
neurons having different receptive field properties
(untuned excitatory RFs, untuned inhibitory
RFs, and orientation tuned RFs). These different
RF types show changes in firing rates in response to
changes in hand position which may be important in
object perception.
Following Dr Hsiao’s talk there was another series
of short talks focusing on data derived from in vivo
studies. First to present was Tatiana Bezdudnaya
(University of Maryland) who provided new data
from single unit recordings from the lateral
dorsal nucleus (LD) of the thalamus. In urethane-
anesthetized rats, it was observed that whisker
stimulation resulted in short-latency excitatory
responses suggestive of direct input from peripheral
afferents. Consistent with this observation, electrical
stimulation of nucleus interpolaris resulted in
short-latency excitation of LD units. Interestingly,
electrical stimulation of barrel cortex resulted in
both antidromic and orthodromic responses, sug-
gesting reciprocal connections from LD to barrel
cortex. Randy Bruno (Max Planck Institute for
Medical Research) presented data from recordings
from pairs of connected thalamic and barrel neurons
in vivo. Whole-cell recordings from barrel
neurons and cell-attached recordings from thalamic
neurons provided unequivocal confirmation of
136 R. L. Ramos & J. C. Brumberg
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connected pairs and revealed that single thalamocor-
tical (TC) impulses result in very weak excitation of
barrel neurons (51mV). These data emphasize the
importance that synchronous firing of many TC
neurons converging onto individual barrel neurons
has on the excitation of barrel cortex.
Robert Sachdev ( Yale University) presented in vivo
intracellular recordings from barrel neurons during
spontaneous membrane potential fluctuations
(up–down states). Interestingly, the up-state was
found to be associated with decreased responsiveness
to whisker stimulation and appears to be mediated by
increased inhibition. Whisker stimulation during
down-states often resulted in transitions to up-states
suggesting that peripheral inputs can trigger
widespread excitation of barrel circuits. Jason Kerr
(Max Planck Institute for Medical Research)
demonstrated the response properties of networks
of barrel neurons to whisker stimulation with
2-photon calcium imaging. Neurons responding to
stimulation onset, offset, or both were detected as
well as network-level response features. Whisker
stimulation resulted in greater spatial correlations
in network activity compared to spontaneous firing.
With the same imaging preparation, David
Greenberg (Max Planck Institute for Medical
Research) used reverse correlation and information
theory to evaluate the predictive strength of detecting
whisker stimulation onset. Near perfect detection of
stimuli was achieved when data from 175 to 200
simultaneously imaged neurons were included in
analyses. Gaute Einevoll (Norwegian University of
the Life Sciences) described novel quantitative
methods to extract network-level connections
between cortical lamina from data acquired with
linear electrode arrays. Extracting low frequency
local field potentials representing synaptic inputs and
high frequency signals from spiking neurons, this
novel method (Laminar Population Analysis) can
demonstrate the sequential spread of excitation from
granular to supragranular layers and can be used to
detect novel connection patterns. Maria Popescu
(Vanderbilt University) presented single unit data
from rats following unilateral or bilateral whisker
trimming. Bilateral deprivation resulted in a decrease
in spontaneous and evoked responses in both
barrel and septal columns. In contrast, unilateral
deprivation (UD) resulted only in changes in and
above barrels, while septal neurons remained
Moving to anatomical and in vitro studies in the
afternoon, Julian Broser (Max Planck Institute
for Medical Research) demonstrated axonal
reorganization made by layer 2/3 barrel neurons
following whisker trimming. Whisker trimming of
rows A–C was combined with injection of a lentiviral
vector encoding GFP into the D2 barrel which
revealed a significant reduction in the number of
axons projecting toward C row barrels. Axonal
reorganization was restricted to axons of
supragranular neurons. Alexis Hattox (Brandies
University) identified layer 5 barrel cortex neurons
which projected to the striatum, the contralateral
cortex, the thalamus, or trigeminal nuclei following
retrograde labeling and targeted these neurons for
whole-cell recordings in vitro. Neurons with callosal
and striatal projections were found to display similar
intrinsic electrophysiological properties including
strong spike frequency adaptation. In contrast, layer
5 neurons with thalamic as well as trigeminal
projections showed little adaptation. Microarray
analysis of layer 5 neurons revealed differential
expression of several genes including potassium
channels which may underlie the physiological
phenotype of each cell type. Raddy Ramos
(Queens College, CUNY) presented data from
in vitro, whole-cell recordings of identified callosal
neurons in layer 2/3. Retrogradely labeled callosal
neurons displayed a ‘‘regular-spiking’’ phenotype
and had pyramidal cell morphologies including
spiny dendrites. In order to reveal the axonal
projections of callosal neurons, GFP was expressed
in layer 2/3 neurons by electroporation in utero.
Analysis of labeled axons revealed that layer 2/3
callosal neurons preferentially target layers 1–3 and
5/6 while avoiding layer 4.
The meeting was concluded with two talks which
utilized imaging techniques to assay neuronal
structure and function. Wen-Biao Gan (New York
University) discussed the growth and elimination of
dendritic spines as well as the effect of sensory
deprivation on these processes. During the first
postnatal month, dendritic development in barrel
cortex is characterized preferentially by spine
elimination rather than growth. Sensory deprivation
via whisker trimming during this period results in a
reduction in the number of spines eliminated and
subsequent regrowth of whiskers accelerates spine
elimination. The second talk was by Fritjof
Helmchen (University of Zurich), who presented
advances in 2-photon microscopy for use in imaging
large three-dimensional neuronal networks in vivo
during the presentation of controlled whisker stimuli.
Piezo-electric devices were used to move objectives
along predetermined trajectories in order to
image from up to 400 cells including neurons and
astrocytes. Alternatively, objectives could be moved
to image selected cells found along various depths
and spatial locations.
Barrels XIX emphasized the inter-disciplinary
nature of the field with presentations using a whole
host of modern molecular, cellular, physiological,
and imaging techniques to probe the structure and
function of the barrel model system.
Barrels XIX Meeting Report 137
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Thanks to Cathy Woodley and Dr Peter MacLeish
for their assistance at the Morehouse School of
Medicine. Ms Kathy Diekmann was instrumental in
putting the meeting together and Drs Randy Bruno,
Mitra Hartmann, and Jochen Staiger assisted in
planning the meeting. The meeting was supported
with generous support from the National Science
Foundation, Division of Integrative and Organismal
138 R. L. Ramos & J. C. Brumberg