The barrel cortex is the part of the somatosensory cortex of rodents where sensory inputs from the whiskers in the contralateral side of the body are represented. Inputs from the thalamus carrying information from a given whisker terminate in discrete areas of layer IV forming anatomically distinguishable areas called barrels, which are separated from each other by areas called septa. These structures were first discovered by Woolsey and Van der Loos (1970). Recognizing that the array was similar to that of the vibrissae on the mystacial pad, they hypothesized that the barrels were the "cortical correlates of the mystacial vibrissae" and that "one barrel represents one vibrissa".
Due to its clear anatomical structure and functional significance, the barrel cortex has played an important role in neuroscience. The majority of what is known about corticothalamic processing comes from studying the barrel cortex and researchers have intensively studied the barrel cortex as a model of neocortical column.
Neurons within the layer IV barrel cortex directly code for whisker displacement. That is to say, that the neuron within a given barrel will fire when the whisker that barrel represents is moved. These neurons also show directional sensitivity, certain neurons will only fire when the whisker is moved in a specific direction [1, 2].
 Swadlow HA. Efferent neurons and suspected interneurons in S-1 vibrissa cortex of the awake rabbit: receptive fields and axonal properties. J Neurophysiol 62: 288–308, 1989
 Swadlow HA. Efferent neurons and suspected interneurons in second somatosensory cortex of the awake rabbit: receptive fields and axonal properties. J Neurophysiol 66: 1392–1409, 1991
Research groups working on barrel cortex:
- Barrel Group, Freiburg, http://www.barrels.uni-freiburg.de