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Molecular genetic visualization of a rare subset of unmyelinated sensory neurons that may detect gentle touch


C-fiber tactile afferents are a subpopulation of unmyelinated cutaneous sensory neurons activated by gentle stroking. Using a genetically encoded tracer, we found that Mas-related G protein–coupled receptor B4 marks a rare subpopulation of unmyelinated, nonpeptidergic sensory fibers that exclusively innervate hairy skin. These fibers terminate in large arborizations similar in size and distribution to C-fiber tactile afferent receptive fields, suggesting that MrgprB4 may provide genetic access to these elusive neurons in mice.

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Figure 1: Characterization of MrgprB4+ sensory neurons.
Figure 2: MrgprB4+ peripheral terminals exclusively innervate hairy skin and show large arborizations.
Figure 3: MrgprB4 peripheral and central projections.


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We thank S. Pease for mouse assistance and J. Edens for electron microscopy. This work was supported by Alfred P. Sloan Neuroscience and Whitehall Foundation grants (X.D. and M.J.Z.), a Blaustein Pain research fund award (XD) and a European Molecular Biology Organization fellowship (S.V.). D.J.A. is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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X.D. generated the MrgprB4-PLAP mice, Q.L. carried out the bulk of the immunohistochemical characterization and analysis of these mice, S.V. contributed to the initial analysis and participated in the electron microscopic PLAP experiments, M.J.Z. generated and analyzed MrgprDPLAP/EGFP spinal cord, F.L.R. provided expert advice on interpretation of epidermal innervation and D.J.A. supervised the project and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Xinzhong Dong or David J Anderson.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–4, Table 1, Discussion (PDF 393 kb)

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Liu, Q., Vrontou, S., Rice, F. et al. Molecular genetic visualization of a rare subset of unmyelinated sensory neurons that may detect gentle touch. Nat Neurosci 10, 946–948 (2007).

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