The purpose of this project is to achieve the first recordings of single neurons in the cuneate nucleus (CN) of awake non-human primates. CN is a tiny, previously inaccessible, structure at the base of the brainstem that is the gateway for sensory signals from our upper limbs to our brain. We hope to generate foundational scientific data that will illuminate the poorly understood role of CN in processing information about somatosensation. A central question in sensory neuroscience is how sensory representations are transformed as they ascend the neuraxis. In primates, the coding of tactile information and of limb state has been extensively studied in the nerve and in primary somatosensory cortex (S1). Previous studies have shown that responses of individual S1 neurons reflect convergent input from multiple tactile submodalities. Furthermore, while the responses of individual afferents convey ambiguous information about stimuli, those of cortical neurons explicitly carry information about behaviorally relevant stimulus features, such as edge orientation or motion direction. In contrast, much less attention has been directed towards the two intervening synapses in the medial lemniscal pathway, namely the dorsal column nuclei (of which the CN is one) and the ventroposterior nucleus of the thalamus. We have developed an approach to chronically implant electrode arrays in the CN of primates so that we will be able, for the first time, to record single unit activity from this structure in awake, behaving animals. We propose to probe the responses of CN neurons to a wide variety of stimuli that have been used to investigate tactile coding at the periphery and in cortex. We will (a) characterize the receptive field structure of individual CN neurons; (b) assess the extent to which CN neurons receive convergent input from multiple tactile submodalities; and (c) determine the extent to which the feature selectivity observed in S1 begins to emerge in CN. The proposed study will not only shed light on somatosensory coding in CN, but it will also pave the way for developing neural interfaces with the brain stem for use in upper-limb neuroprostheses to restore touch for amputees and patients with spinal cord injury.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed project addresses fundamental questions about the neural mechanisms of somatosensory perception. Current efforts to develop upper-limb neuroprosthetic devices are limited in their ability to convey somatosensory feedback due to inadequacies in our understanding of how tactile processing, particularly in the hand, are encoded in the activity of somatosensory neurons. This project constitutes an attempt to characterize the response properties of neurons in the cuneate nucleus, knowledge of which can then inform the development of sensory neuroprostheses through subcortical interfaces.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Gnadt, James W
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Chicago
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Saal, Hannes P; Suresh, Aneesha K; Solorzano, Lidia E et al. (2018) The Effect of Contact Force on the Responses of Tactile Nerve Fibers to Scanned Textures. Neuroscience 389:99-103
Suresh, Aneesha K; Winberry, Jeremy E; Versteeg, Christopher et al. (2017) Methodological considerations for a chronic neural interface with the cuneate nucleus of macaques. J Neurophysiol 118:3271-3281
Suresh, Aneesha K; Saal, Hannes P; Bensmaia, Sliman J (2016) Edge orientation signals in tactile afferents of macaques. J Neurophysiol 116:2647-2655