Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

From the twitching whiskers of babes: Naptime behavior shapes the brain

Date:
October 18, 2012
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
The whiskers of newborn rats twitch as they sleep, in a whisker equivalent of rapid-eye-movements, and that could open the door to new understandings about the intimate connections between brain and body. The discovery reinforces the notion that such involuntary movements are a vital contributor to the development of sensorimotor systems, say researchers.

The whiskers of newborn rats twitch as they sleep, in a whisker equivalent of rapid-eye-movements, and that could open the door to new understandings about the intimate connections between brain and body.
Credit: © usbfco / Fotolia

The whiskers of newborn rats twitch as they sleep, and that could open the door to new understandings about the intimate connections between brain and body. The discovery reinforces the notion that such involuntary movements are a vital contributor to the development of sensorimotor systems, say researchers who report their findings along with video of those whisker twitches on Oct. 18 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

"We found that even whiskers twitch during sleep -- and they do so in infant rats long before they move their whiskers in the coordinated fashion known as whisking," said Mark Blumberg of The University of Iowa. "This discovery opens up new avenues for investigating how we develop critical connections between the sensors in our body and the parts of the brain that interpret and organize sensory information."

In fact, the baby rats' whiskers don't just twitch, they twitch very rapidly and in complex ways. Those twitches during sleep are tied to bursts of activity in the brain, which aren't often observed when rats are awake.

Other parts of the body twitch spontaneously during sleep, too, including the eyes (think "rapid eye movements") and the limbs. "Spontaneous motor activity can play many different roles in early development and even throughout life," Blumberg explains. "It can be a source of brain activity in general as well as a source of highly specific, patterned activity that can help shape specific neural circuits."

But no one had given much thought to this activity in the very special case of whiskers, which are as important to rats as eyes are to humans. Each individual whisker maps to discrete regions of the brain that process information from that individual whisker alone. The whisker-specific brain regions form arrangements that map beautifully to the physical arrangements of whiskers on the snout.

That precise organization has made the study of whiskers very popular amongst neuroscientists seeking a basic understanding of the developmental mechanisms linking peripheral sensors and brain, and that's what makes this new discovery all the more intriguing. It might also give us a new appreciation for the important work infants are doing even as they sleep.

"One of the jobs of the infant is to learn how all the parts of the body function even as those parts are growing in size and proportion," Blumberg says. "It is a difficult job."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alexandre Tiriac, Brandt D. Uitermarkt, Alexander S. Fanning, Greta Sokoloff, Mark S. Blumberg. Rapid Whisker Movements in Sleeping Newborn Rats. Current Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.009

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "From the twitching whiskers of babes: Naptime behavior shapes the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121018123042.htm>.
Cell Press. (2012, October 18). From the twitching whiskers of babes: Naptime behavior shapes the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121018123042.htm
Cell Press. "From the twitching whiskers of babes: Naptime behavior shapes the brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121018123042.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) — A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) — Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins