A growing body of evidence suggests that the barrel and septal regions in layer IV of rat primary somatosensory (SI) cortex may represent separate processing channels. To assess this view, pairs of barrel and septal neurons were recorded simultaneously in the anesthetized rat while a 4 x 4 array of 16 whiskers was mechanically stimulated at 4, 8, 12, and 16 Hz. Compared with barrel neurons, regular-spiking septal neurons displayed greater increases in response latencies as the frequency of whisker stimulation increased. Cross-correlation analysis indicated that the incidence and strength of neuronal coordination varied with the relative spatial configuration (within vs. across rows) and compartmental location (barrel vs. septa) of the recorded neurons. Barrel and septal neurons were strongly coordinated if both neurons were in close proximity and resided in the same row. Some barrel neurons were weakly coordinated, but only if they resided in the same row. By contrast, the strength of coordination among pairs of septal neurons did not vary with their spatial proximity or their spatial configuration within the arcs and rows of the barrel field. These differential responses provide further support for the view that the barrel and septal regions represent the cortical gateway for processing streams that encode specific aspects of the sensorimotor information associated with whisking behavior.
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