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Papers of the Week

Papers: 23 Apr 2022 - 29 Apr 2022

2022 Apr 19

Curr Opin Neurobiol


Bridging skin, brain, and behavior to understand pleasurable social touch.


Elias LJ, Abdus-Saboor I
Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2022 Apr 19; 73:102527.
PMID: 35453001.


Social touch-the affiliative skin-to-skin contact between individuals-can rapidly evoke emotions of comfort, pleasure, or calm, and is essential for mental and physical well-being. Physical isolation from social support can be devastating. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we observed a global increase in suicidal ideation, anxiety, domestic violence, and worsening of pre-existing physical conditions, alerting society to our need to understand the neurobiology of social touch and how it promotes normal health. Gaining a mechanistic understanding of how sensory neuron stimulation induces pleasure, calm, and analgesia may reveal untapped therapeutic targets in the periphery for treatment of anxiety and depression, as well as social disorders and traumas in which social touch becomes aversive. Bridging the gap between stimulation in the skin and positive affect in the brain-especially during naturally occurring social touch behaviors-remains a challenge to the field. However, with advances in mouse genetics, behavioral quantification, and brain imaging approaches to measure neuronal firing and neurochemical release, completing this mechanistic picture may be on the horizon. Here, we summarize some exciting new findings about social touch in mammals, emphasizing both the peripheral and central nervous systems, with attempts to bridge the gap between external stimulation and internal representations in the brain.