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    Nearly all mammals have a vibrissal system specialized for tactile sensation, composed of whiskers growing from sensor-rich follicles in the skin. When a whisker deflects against an object, it deforms within the follicle and exerts forces on the mechanoreceptors inside. In addition, during active whisking behavior, muscle contractions around the follicle and increases in blood pressure in the ring sinus will affect the whisker deformation profile. To date, however, it is not yet possible to experimentally measure how the whisker deforms in an intact follicle or its effects on different groups of mechanoreceptors. The present study develops a novel model to predict vibrissal deformation within the follicle sinus complex. The model is based on experimental results from a previous ex vivo study on whisker deformation within the follicle, and on a new histological analysis of follicle tissue. It is then used to simulate whisker deformation within the follicle during passive touch and active whisking. Results suggest that the most likely whisker deformation profile is "S-shaped," crossing the midline of the follicle right below the ring sinus. Simulations of active whisking indicate that an increase in overall muscle stiffness, an increase in the ratio between deep and superficial intrinsic muscle stiffness, and an increase in sinus blood pressure will all enhance tactile sensitivity. Finally, we discuss how the deformation profiles might map to the responses of primary afferents of each mechanoreceptor type. The mechanical model presented in this study is an important first step in simulating mechanical interactions within whisker follicles.


    Yifu Luo, Chris S Bresee, John W Rudnicki, Mitra J Z Hartmann. Constraints on the deformation of the vibrissa within the follicle. PLoS computational biology. 2021 Apr;17(4):e1007887

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    PMID: 33793548

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