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Huge step made in understanding touch sensations

A breakthrough color-coding technique has been developed to give neuroscientists a tool for studying the mysterious touch sense.

  Author: mat | Source: wired.com | 30th December 2011  
 
 
 

“Of all five major senses, the skin sense is the least understood. It’s an enormous frontier, and this is a huge leap forward” explained Jeff Woodbury of the University of Wyoming. The scientists hope they will be able to discover all of the different circuits of skin sensation.

For hundreds of years, anatomists and physiologists have found over 24 unique types of nerve endings but until only recently they couldn't really tell or explain how brain processes their signals.





The revelation was made, when the researchers started focusing on nerve endings called low-threshold mechanosensory receptors or LTMRs of a mouse. These receptors are ultra sensitive and react to the slightest of sensations, like mosquito’s footsteps or a hint of breeze.

What the researches have done, is they basically illuminated the the paths of LTMR cells of a mouse by tagging the mouse embrio genes that are active only in types of LTMRs at the base of ultra-sensitive hairs with fluorescent proteins.

For the first time they were able to nail down and tie specialized nerve endings to functions.

“We still have a long way to go, but this is one of the most exciting developments in sensory information research I’ve seen,” Woodbury eplained. “We now can begin to ask how information is coming from each hair, how is it organized and how the central nervous system processes it.”



 

 
 
   
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