Evidence for sparse C-tactile afferent innervation of glabrous human hand skin

  • Watkins Roger Holmes
  • Dione Mariama
  • Ackerley Rochelle
  • Backlund Wasling Helena
  • Wessberg Johan
  • Löken Line

  • Touch
  • C-tactile
  • Affective touch
  • Skin
  • Human

ART

C-tactile (CT) afferents were long-believed to be lacking in humans, but were subsequently shown to densely innervate the face and arm skin, and to a lesser extent the leg. Their firing frequency to stroking touch at different velocities has been correlated with ratings of tactile pleasantness. CT afferents were thought to be absent in human glabrous skin; however, tactile pleasantness can be perceived across the whole body, including glabrous hand skin. We used microneurography to investigate mechanoreceptive afferents in the glabrous skin of the human hand, during median and radial nerve recordings. We describe CTs found in the glabrous skin, with comparable characteristics to those in hairy arm skin, and detail recordings from three such afferents. CTs were infrequently encountered in the glabrous skin and we estimate that the ratio of recorded CTs relative to myelinated mechanoreceptors (1:80) corresponds to an absolute innervation density of around 7 times lower than in hairy skin. This sparse innervation sheds light on discrepancies between psychophysical findings of touch perception on glabrous skin and hairy skin, although the role of these CT afferents in the glabrous skin remains subject to future work. New & Noteworthy: Human touch is encoded by low-threshold mechanoreceptors, including myelinated Aβ afferents and unmyelinated C-tactile (CT) afferents. CTs are abundant in hairy skin and are thought to code gentle, stroking touch that signals positive affective interactions. CTs have never been described in human glabrous skin, yet we show evidence for their existence on the hand, albeit at relatively low density. Glabrous skin CTs may provide modulatory reinforcement of gentle tactile interactions during touch using the hands.