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Animals strategically scan the environment to form an accurate perception of their surroundings. Here we investigated the neuronal representations that mediate this behavior. Ca imaging and selective optogenetic manipulation during an active sensing task reveals that layer 5 pyramidal neurons in the vibrissae cortex produce a diverse and distributed representation that is required for mice to adapt their whisking motor strategy to changing sensory cues. The optogenetic perturbation degraded single-neuron selectivity and network population encoding through a selective inhibition of active dendritic integration. Together the data indicate that active dendritic integration in pyramidal neurons produces a nonlinearly mixed network representation of joint sensorimotor parameters that is used to transform sensory information into motor commands during adaptive behavior. The prevalence of the layer 5 cortical circuit motif suggests that this is a general circuit computation.