Navigation through complex environments requires motor planning, motor preparation and the coordination between multiple sensory motor modalities. For example, the stepping motion when we walk is coordinated with motion of the torso, arms, head and eyes. In rodents, movement of the animal through the environment is often coordinated with whisking. Here we trained head fixed mice, navigating a floating Airtrack plus maze, to overcome their directional preference and use cues indicating the direction of movement expected in each trial. Once cued, mice had to move backward out of a lane, then turn in the correct direction, and enter a new lane. In this simple paradigm, as mice begin to move backward, they position their whiskers asymmetrically: whiskers on one side of the face protract, and on the other side they retract. This asymmetry reflected the turn direction. Additionally, on each trial, mice move their eyes conjugately in the direction of the upcoming turn. Not only do they move their eyes, but saccadic eye movement is coordinated with the asymmetric positioning of the whiskers. Our analysis shows that the asymmetric positioning of the whiskers predicts the direction of turn that mice will make at an earlier stage than eye movement does. We conclude that, when mice move or plan to move in complex real-world environments, their motor plan and behavioral state can be read out in the movement of both their whiskers and eyes.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience