Experience-dependent development of the cortical representation of social touch

Project Leader: Michael Brecht e-mail


In the previous funding period we focused on the experience-dependent development of cortical areas and skilled tactile behaviors in the Etruscan shrews, Suncus etruscus. In the next funding phase we will continue our analysis of the development of tactile cortical representations. We will extend our analysis to also include rodents and we will change the focus of the behavioral analysis from prey touch to social touch. The sense of touch is a key sense in mother-pup interactions and maternal touch and licking are essential for survival in rodents. Even though the behavioral significance of tactile interactions is long recognized and it is well known that touch is a key sensory system in newborn pups, we know little about the cortical representation of social touch in mothers and pups. We will address this question using advanced electrophysiology techniques (in vivo extracellular and intracellular recordings) and sophisticated behavioral analysis techniques (high-speed videography). Understanding the cortical representation of social touch will provide insights on the neural basis of social signaling and its aberrations.