Coding of pleasant touch by unmyelinated afferents in humans

Abstract

Pleasant touch sensations may begin with neural coding in the periphery by specific afferents. We found that during soft brush stroking, low-threshold unmyelinated mechanoreceptors (C-tactile), but not myelinated afferents, responded most vigorously at intermediate brushing velocities (1−10 cm s−1), which were perceived by subjects as being the most pleasant. Our results indicate that C-tactile afferents constitute a privileged peripheral pathway for pleasant tactile stimulation that is likely to signal affiliative social body contact.

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Figure 1: Brush stimulation and nerve recordings.
Figure 2: Neural discharge rate and perception of pleasantness in response to soft brush stroking.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Å. Vallbo, U. Norrsell and M.C. Bushnell for kindly reading the manuscript and offering advice. We also thank K. Göthner, M. Evert and J. Lindholm for technical assistance. This work was supported by the Swedish Research Council, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Unilever and the Wenner-Gren foundation.

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Contributions

L.S.L., J.W., F.M. and H.O. designed the study. L.S.L. and J.W. carried out the microneurography experiments and analyzed the data. L.S.L. performed the psychophysical experiments. L.S.L., J.W., I.M. and H.O. wrote the paper. F.M. coordinated the construction of the robotic tactile stimulator.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Line S Löken or Håkan Olausson.

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Supplementary Text and Figures

Supplementary Figures 1–4, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Methods and Discussion (PDF 335 kb)

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Löken, L., Wessberg, J., Morrison, I. et al. Coding of pleasant touch by unmyelinated afferents in humans. Nat Neurosci 12, 547–548 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2312

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