Primary sensory cortex discriminates incoming sensory information and generates multiple processing streams toward other cortical areas. However, the underlying cellular mechanisms remain unknown. Here, by making whole-cell recordings in primary somatosensory barrel cortex (S1) of behaving mice, we show that S1 neurons projecting to primary motor cortex (M1) and those projecting to secondary somatosensory cortex (S2) have distinct intrinsic membrane properties and exhibit markedly different membrane potential dynamics during behavior. Passive tactile stimulation evoked faster and larger postsynaptic potentials (PSPs) in M1-projecting neurons, rapidly driving phasic action potential firing, well-suited for stimulus detection. Repetitive active touch evoked strongly depressing PSPs and only transient firing in M1-projecting neurons. In contrast, PSP summation allowed S2-projecting neurons to robustly signal sensory information accumulated during repetitive touch, useful for encoding object features. Thus, target-specific transformation of sensory-evoked synaptic potentials by S1 projection neurons generates functionally distinct output signals for sensorimotor coordination and sensory perception.
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