Highly read on www.jneurosci.org in February

Nerve fibres in human skin that are sensitive to gentle touch are specially tuned to respond to slow, skin-temperature strokes.

Rochelle Ackerley at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and her colleagues used a robotic probe to stroke the forearms of volunteers at different speeds and temperatures. In one experiment, the researchers recorded the electrical responses of the nerves, called C-tactile fibres, in the skin of 18 participants. In another, they assessed how pleasurable 30 different participants considered each stroke.

The C-tactile fibres fired more frequently, and participants reported more pleasure, when strokes were applied slowly and the probe was close to typical skin temperature. The findings suggest that the fibres have a role in evolutionarily important social interactions that rely on touch, such as in romantic relationships or when nurturing a baby.

J. Neuro. 34, 2879–2883 (2014)