Spatial pattern representation and transformation in monkey somatosensory cortex

J. R. Phillips, K. O. Johnson, S. S. Hsiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Embossed letters, used previously in pattern recognition experiments in humans, were used to study the spatial patterns of neural activity evoked in peripheral fibers and cortical neurons in areas 3b and 1 of the primary somatosensory cortex of alert rhesus (Macaca mulatta) monkeys. The object was to investigate the representation and transformation of spatial information during the early stages of peripheral and cortical neural processing. Our method consisted of sweeping each letter of the alphabet across the skin repeatedly and constructing a two-dimensional plot (called a spatial event plot) of the action potentials evoked in afferent fibers and cortical neurons. By using this method, slowly and rapidly adapting primary afferents were shown to transmit isomorphic neural images of the letters. Although the slowly adapting images were more spatially acute, both populations conveyed images of sufficient quality to account for human psychophysical performance. In the cortical areas studied, the slowly adapting neurons of area 3b stood out for the acuity, complexity, and variety of their responses. Some of the spatial event plots for these neurons were isomorphic and at least as acute as those obtained from any primary afferent. Others were highly structured but nonisomorphic. The quality and variety of responses in area 3b slowly adapting neurons suggest that they play an important role in the processing of information underlying tactual pattern recognition. The rapidly adapting neurons of area 3b and all types of neurons in area 1 yield much less structured and differentiated responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1317-1321
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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