Neuronal activity in the second somatosensory cortex of monkeys (Macaca mulatta) during active touch of gratings

R. J. Sinclair, H. Burton

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1. In penetrations made into the upper bank of the lateral sulcus in two monkeys (Macaca mulatta), cells were isolated from the second somatosensory cortex (SII). During single-cell recordings, animals performed an active touch task in which they rubbed their fingertips over pairs of gratings differing in groove width and indicated which was the smoother surface. Hand motion and downward applied force were measured and recorded during these strokes. 2. In this survey, 151 penetrations provided observations on 352 cells that responded to passive stimulation of the digits or during performance of the active touch task. Consistent with previous reports, receptive fields (RFs) in SII were large, often multidigit, and frequently included a portion or all of the hand and occasionally the arm. Modality was determined for 92 of 127 fully characterized cells, and included 70 cutaneous, 5 deep, 11 Pacinian corpuscle, and 6 joint cells. Characteristic of SII, modality could not be defined in 35 cells that were unresponsive to passive stimulation or whose responses varied widely over time. 3. Response properties of a subgroup of 79 cells in SII resembled those previously studied in the primary somatosensory cortex (SI) and ventroposterior lateral nucleus of the thalamus (VPL) using identical procedures. Correlation analysis revealed that 29 of these cells, like a portion of cells in SI, responded to changes in groove width independent of force or velocity. This selectivity could be considered a form of feature specificity. 4. In contrast to SI and VPL, transient responses to the fingertips contacting small elevated metal bars, which demarcated the beginning, middle, and end of strokes across the gratings, were seen in a majority of SII cells (109/127). During contact with bars, 89 cells displayed excitatory responses and 20 cells showed suppressed activity. Twelve cells, which responded to bars in isolation from gratings, provided a possible example of increased stimulus selectivity. 5. Passive stimulation failed to active 16 cells that responded, in some cases differentially to gratings or force, during the task. Responses of nine other cells demonstrated task-dependent modulation in the form of response reduction or enhancement during selected portions of the stroke. In these same cells, response changes did not occur under comparable stimulus conditions in other portions of the stroke that differed only in behavioral context. These types of selective response modulations, not noted in our previous studies of VPL or SI, suggest that mechanisms regulating sensory inputs may affect SII. 6. Greater stimulus selectivity, larger RFs, loss of modality specificity, and selective modulation observed in SII are discussed in reference to the possibility that they characterize SII as being 'upstream' in proposed somatosensory hierarchies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-350
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1993


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