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Tuning instability of non-columnar neurons in the salt-and-pepper whisker map in somatosensory cortex

Wang, HC;LeMessurier, AM;Feldman, DE;

Rodent sensory cortex contains salt-and-pepper maps of sensory features, whose structure is not fully known. Here we investigated the structure of the salt-and-pepper whisker somatotopic map among L2/3 pyramidal neurons in somatosensory cortex, in awake mice performing one-vs-all whisker discrimination. Neurons tuned for columnar (CW) and non-columnar (non-CW) whiskers were spatially intermixed, with co-tuned neurons forming local (20 µm) clusters. Whisker tuning was markedly unstable in expert mice, with 35-46% of pyramidal cells significantly shifting tuning over 5-18 days. Tuning instability was highly concentrated in non-CW tuned neurons, and thus was structured in the map. Instability of non-CW neurons was unchanged during chronic whisker paralysis and when mice discriminated individual whiskers, suggesting it is an inherent feature. Thus, L2/3 combines two distinct components: a stable columnar framework of CW-tuned cells that may promote spatial perceptual stability, plus an intermixed, non-columnar surround with highly unstable tuning.