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Papers of the Week

2019 08 06



Tactile sensory channels over-ruled by frequency decoding system that utilizes spike pattern regardless of receptor type.


Birznieks I, McIntyre S, Nilsson H M, Nagi SS, Macefield VG, Mahns DA, Vickery RM
Elife. 2019 08 06; 8.
PMID: 31383258.


The established view is that vibrotactile stimuli evoke two qualitatively distinctive cutaneous sensations, flutter (frequencies < 60 Hz) and vibratory hum (frequencies > 60 Hz), subserved by two distinct receptor types (Meissner's and Pacinian corpuscle, respectively), which may engage different neural processing pathways or channels and fulfil quite different biological roles. In psychological and physiological literature, those two systems have been labelled as Pacinian and non-Pacinian channels. However, we present evidence that low-frequency spike trains in Pacinian afferents can readily induce a vibratory percept with the same low frequency attributes as sinusoidal stimuli of the same frequency, thus demonstrating a universal frequency decoding system. We achieved this using brief low-amplitude pulsatile mechanical stimuli to selectively activate Pacinian afferents. This indicates that spiking pattern, regardless of receptor type, determines vibrotactile frequency perception. This mechanism may underlie the constancy of vibrotactile frequency perception across different skin regions innervated by distinct afferent types.