The representations of orientation and shape were studied in the responses of cutaneous mechanoreceptors to an isolated, raised object on a planar surface stroked across the fingerpad. The objects were the top portions of a sphere with a 5-mm radius, and two toroids each with a radius of 5 mm along one axis and differing radii of 1 or 3 mm along the orthogonal axis. The velocity and direction of stroking were fixed while the orientation of the object in the horizontal plane was varied. Each object was stroked along a series of laterally shifted, parallel, linear trajectories over the receptive fields of slowly adapting, type I (SA), and rapidly adapting, type I (RA) mechanoreceptive afferents innervating the fingerpad of the monkey. 'Spatial event plots' (SEPs) of the occurrence of action potentials, as a function of the location of each object on the receptive field, were interpreted as the responses of a spatially distributed population of fibers. That portion of the plot evoked by the curved object (the SEP(c)) provided a representation of the shape and orientation of the two-dimensional outline of the object in the horizontal plane in contact with the skin. For both SAs and RAs, the major vector of the SEP(c), obtained by a principal components analysis, was linearly related to the physical orientation of the major axis of each toroid. The spatial distribution of discharge rates [spatial rate surface profiles (SRSs), after plotting mean instantaneous frequency versus spatial locus within the SEP(c)] represented object shape in a third dimension, normal to the skin surface. The shape of the SA SRSs, well fitted by Gaussian equations, better represented object shape than that of the RA SRSs. A crosssectional profile along the minor axis [spatial rate profile (SRP)] was approximately triangular for SAs. After normalization for differences in peak height, the falling slopes of the SA SRPs increased, and the base widths decreased with curvature of the object's minor axis. These curvature-related differences in slopes and widths were invariant with changes in object orientation. It is hypothesized that circularity in object shape is coded by the constancy of slopes of SA SRPs between peak and base and that the constancy of differences in the widths and falling slopes evoked by different raised objects encodes, respectively, the differences in their sizes and shapes regardless of differences in their orientation on the skin.
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