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Functional role of unmyelinated tactile afferents in human hairy skin: sympathetic response and perceptual localization.

Journal article
Authors Håkan Olausson
Jonathan Cole
Karin Rylander
Francis McGlone
Yves Lamarre
Gunnar B Wallin
Heidrun H Krämer
Johan Wessberg
Mikael Elam
M Catherine Bushnell
Åke Vallbo
Published in Experimental brain research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Expérimentation cérébrale
Volume 184
Issue 1
Pages 135-40
ISSN 1432-1106
Publication year 2008
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Pages 135-40
Language en
Keywords Adult, Afferent Pathways, physiology, Female, Forearm, Hair, physiology, Humans, Male, Mechanoreceptors, physiology, Middle Aged, Neuritis, physiopathology, Perception, physiology, Physical Stimulation, Reference Values, Sensory Thresholds, physiology, Skin, physiopathology, Skin Physiology, Touch, physiology
Subject categories Experimental brain research, Clinical neurophysiology, Neurophysiology, Neurology


In addition to A-beta fibres the human hairy skin has unmyelinated (C) fibres responsive to light touch. Previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies in a subject with a neuronopathy who specifically lacks A-beta afferents indicated that tactile C afferents (CT) activate insular cortex, whereas no response was seen in somatosensory areas 1 and 2. Psychophysical tests suggested that CT afferents give rise to an inconsistent perception of weak and pleasant touch. By examining two neuronopathy subjects as well as control subjects we have now demonstrated that CT stimulation can elicit a sympathetic skin response. Further, the neuronopathy subjects' ability to localize stimuli which activate CT afferents was very poor but above chance level. The findings support the interpretation that the CT system is well suited to underpin affective rather than discriminative functions of tactile sensations.

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