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Human C-tactile afferents are tuned to the temperature of a skin-stroking caress

Journal article
Authors Rochelle Ackerley
Helena Backlund Wasling
Jaquette Liljencrantz
Håkan Olausson
Richard D. Johnson
Johan Wessberg
Published in Journal of Neuroscience
Volume 34
Issue 8
Pages 2879-2883
ISSN 0270-6474
Publication year 2014
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Pages 2879-2883
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2847-1...
https://gup.ub.gu.se/file/127425
Keywords C-fiber, Human, Low-threshold mechanoreceptor, Somatosensory, Thermal, Touch
Subject categories Neurosciences

Abstract

Human C-tactile (CT) afferents respond vigorously to gentle skin stroking and have gained attention for their importance in social touch. Pharmacogenetic activation of the mouse CT equivalent has positively reinforcing, anxiolytic effects, suggesting a role in grooming and affiliative behavior. We recorded from single CT axons in human participants, using the technique of microneurography, and stimulated a unit's receptive field using a novel, computer-controlled moving probe, which stroked the skin of the forearm over five velocities (0.3, 1, 3, 10, and 30 cm s-1) at three temperatures (cool, 18°C; neutral, 32°C; warm, 42°C). We show that CTs are unique among mechanoreceptive afferents: they discharged preferentially to slowly moving stimuli at a neutral (typical skin) temperature, rather than at the cooler or warmer stimulus temperatures. In contrast, myelinated hair mechanoreceptive afferents proportionally increased their firing frequency with stroking velocity and showed no temperature modulation. Furthermore, the CT firing frequency correlated with hedonic ratings to the same mechano-thermal stimulus only at the neutral stimulus temperature, where the stimuli were felt as pleasant at higher firing rates. We conclude that CT afferents are tuned to respond to tactile stimuli with the specific characteristics of a gentle caress delivered at typical skin temperature. This provides a peripheral mechanism for signaling pleasant skin-to-skin contact in humans, which promotes interpersonal touch and affiliative behavior. © 2014 the authors.

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