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Coordination of sniffing and whisking depends on the mode of interaction with the environment

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Smell and touch convey most of the information that nocturnal rodents collect in their natural environments, each via its own complex network of muscles, receptors and neurons. Being active senses, a critical factor determining the integration of their sensations relates to the degree of their coordination. While it has been known for nearly 50 years that sniffing and whisking can be coordinated, the dynamics of such coordination and its dependency on behavioral and environmental conditions are not yet understood. Here we introduce a novel non-invasive method to track sniffing along with whisking and locomotion using high-resolution video recordings of mice, during free exploration of an open arena. Active sensing parameters in each modality showed significant dependency on exploratory modes (“Outbound”, “Exploration” and “Inbound”) and locomotion speed. Surprisingly, the correlation between sniffing and whisking was often as high as the bilateral inter-whisker correlation. Both inter-whisker and inter-modal coordination switched between distinct high-correlation and low-correlation states. The fraction of time with high-correlation states was higher in the Outbound and Exploration modes compared with the Inbound mode. Overall, these data indicate that sniffing–whisking coordination is a complex dynamic process, likely to be controlled by multiple-level inter-modal coordinated loops of motor-sensory networks.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Physics of Complex Systems, Weizmann Institute of Science ; 2: Department of Industrial Engineering, Tel-Aviv University ; 3: Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science ; 4: Department of Structural Biology, Stanford University


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