The whisker nuisance task identifies a late-onset, persistent sensory sensitivity in diffuse brain-injured rats

Katelyn C.S. McNamara, Amanda M. Lisembee, Jonathan Lifshitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Post-traumatic morbidity reduces the quality of life for traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivors by altering neuropsychological function. After midline fluid percussion injury (FPI), diffuse pathology in the ventral posterior thalamus suggests that somatosensory whisker function may be impaired post-injury. The goals of the present study were to design and validate a task to detect injury-induced somatosensory morbidity (Experiment 1), and to evaluate preliminary applications of the task (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, male Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to moderate FPI (∼1.9 atm) or sham injury. Over an 8-week time course, the whiskers on both mystacial pads were stimulated manually with an applicator stick in an open field for three 5-min periods. Behavioral responses in this whisker nuisance task were recorded using objective criteria (max score = 16). Sham animals were ambivalent or soothed by whisker stimulation (4.0 ± 0.8), whereas brain-injured rats showed aggravated responses at 1 week (6.7 ± 0.9), which became significant at 4 weeks (9.5 ± 0.5) and 8 weeks (8.4 ± 1.1) compared to sham injury, indicating chronic injury-induced sensory sensitivity. Total free serum corticosterone levels indicated a significant stress response in brain-injured (125.0 ± 17.7 ng/mL), but not uninjured animals (74.2 ± 12.2 ng/mL) in response to whisker stimulation. In Experiment 2, to evaluate applications of the whisker nuisance task, four additional uninjured and brain-injured groups were subjected to mild brain injury only, shaved whiskers after moderate brain injury, repeated whisker nuisance task stimulation after moderate brain injury, or regular opportunities for tactile exploration of an enriched environment after moderate brain injury over 4 weeks post-injury. The whisker nuisance task has the sensitivity to detect mild brain injury (7.7 ± 1.0), but morbidity was not mitigated by any of the neurorehabilitative interventions. Following diffuse brain injury, the whisker nuisance task is a promising tool to detect post-traumatic morbidity and the efficacy of therapeutic interventions that may restore discrete circuit function in brain-injured patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-706
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2010


  • Corticosterone
  • Physical therapy
  • Plasticity
  • Rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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