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Unmyelinated afferents constitute a second system coding tactile stimuli of the human hairy skin.

Journal article
Authors Åke Vallbo
Håkan Olausson
Johan Wessberg
Published in Journal of neurophysiology
Volume 81
Issue 6
Pages 2753-63
ISSN 0022-3077
Publication year 1999
Published at Institute of Physiology and Pharmacology
Institute of Physiology and Pharmacology, Dept of Physiology
Pages 2753-63
Language en
Links www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.f...
Keywords Adult, Female, Hair, physiology, Hot Temperature, Humans, Male, Mechanoreceptors, physiology, Myelin Sheath, physiology, Nerve Fibers, physiology, Neural Conduction, physiology, Neurons, Afferent, physiology, Physical Stimulation, Sensory Thresholds, physiology, Skin, innervation, Touch, physiology
Subject categories Neurophysiology

Abstract

Impulses were recorded from unmyelinated afferents innervating the forearm skin of human subjects using the technique of microneurography. Units responding to innocuous skin deformation were selected. The sample (n = 38) was split into low-threshold units (n = 27) and high-threshold units (n = 11) on the basis of three distinctive features, i.e., thresholds to skin deformation, size of response to innocuous skin deformation, and differential response to sharp and blunt stimuli. The low-threshold units provisionally were denoted tactile afferents on the basis of their response properties, which strongly suggest that they are coding some feature of tactile stimuli. They exhibited, in many respects, similar functional properties as described for low-threshold C-mechanoreceptive units in other mammals. However, a delayed acceleration, not previously demonstrated, was observed in response to long-lasting innocuous indentations. It was concluded that human hairy skin is innervated by a system of highly sensitive mechanoreceptive units with unmyelinated afferents akin to the system previously described in other mammals. The confirmation that the system is present in the forearm skin and not only in the face area where it first was identified suggests a largely general distribution although there are indications that the tactile C afferents may be lacking in the very distal parts of the limbs. The functional role of the system remains to be assessed although physiological properties of the sense organs invite to speculations that the slow tactile system might have closer relations to limbic functions than to cognitive and motor functions.

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