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Differential sensitivity to surface compliance by tactile afferents in the human finger pad

Journal article
Authors M. Condon
I. Birznieks
K. Hudson
D. K. Chelvanayagam
D. Mahns
Håkan Olausson
V. G. Macefield
Published in Journal of Neurophysiology
Volume 111
Issue 6
Pages 1308-1317
ISSN 0022-3077
Publisher American Physiological Society
Publication year 2014
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation
Pages 1308-1317
Language en
Keywords Cutaneous, Human, Mechanoreceptor, Microneurography, Single unit, silicone, tungsten, adult, article, female, finger, finger pad, male, median nerve, microelectrode, neurophysiology, priority journal, receptive field, rigidity, sensory nerve, tactile afferent, tactile stimulation, Action Potentials, Adolescent, Fingers, Humans, Mechanoreceptors, Neurons, Afferent, Reaction Time, Sensory Thresholds, Touch
Subject categories Clinical Medicine


We undertook a neurophysiological investigation of the responses of low-threshold mechanoreceptors in the human finger pad to surfaces of differing softness. Unitary recordings were made from 26 slowly adapting type I (SAI), 17 fast-adapting type I (FAI), and 9 slowly adapting type II (SAII) afferents via tungsten microelectrodes inserted into the median nerve at the wrist. A servo-controlled stimulator applied ramp-and-hold forces (1, 2, 4 N) at a constant loading and unloading rate (2 N/s) via a flat silicone disc over the center of the finger pad. Nine discs were used, which linearly increased in stiffness across the range. Population responses of the SAI afferents showed the greatest sensitivity to compliance, with a steep monotonic increase in mean firing rate with increasing stiffness (decreasing compliance) of the surface during the loading and plateau (but not unloading) phases. FAI afferents also showed a linear increase in firing during the loading but not unloading phase, although the slope was significantly lower than that of the SAI afferents at all amplitudes. Conversely, SAII afferents were influenced by object compliance only in certain conditions. Given their high density in the finger pads and their linear relationship between firing rate and object compliance during the loading and plateau phases, SAI afferents (together with FAI afferents during the loading phase) are ideally suited to contributing information on surface compliance to the overall estimation of softness, but the SAII afferents appear to play only a minor role.

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