Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Research illuminates 'touchy' subject: Sensory nerve endings

Date:
April 15, 2014
Source:
University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Summary:
Merkel cells -- which contact many sensory nerve endings in the skin -- are the initial sites for sensing touch, researchers have demonstrated. "Scientists have spent over a century trying to understand the function of this specialized skin cell and now we are the first to know … we've proved the Merkel cell to be a primary point of tactile detection," said the principal investigator.

By solving a long standing scientific mystery, the common saying "you just hit a nerve" might need to be updated to "you just hit a Merkel cell," jokes Jianguo Gu, PhD, a pain researcher at the University of Cincinnati (UC).

Related Articles


That's because Gu and his research colleagues have proved that Merkel cells -- which contact many sensory nerve endings in the skin -- are the initial sites for sensing touch.

"Scientists have spent over a century trying to understand the function of this specialized skin cell and now we are the first to know … we've proved the Merkel cell to be a primary point of tactile detection," Gu, principal investigator and a professor in UC's department of anesthesiology, says of their research study published in the April 15 edition of Cell, a leading scientific journal.

Of all the five senses, touch, Gu says, has been the least understood by science -- especially in relation to the Merkel cell, discovered by Friedrich Sigmund Merkel in 1875.

"It's been a great debate because for over two centuries nobody really knew what function this cell had," Gu says, adding that while some scientists -- including him -- suspected that the Merkel cell was related to touch because of the high abundance of these cells in the ridges of fingertips, the lips and other touch sensitive spots throughout the body; others dismissed the cell as not related to sensing touch at all.

To prove their hypothesis that Merkel cells were indeed the very foundation of touch, Gu's team -- which included UC postgraduate fellow Ryo Ikeda, PhD -- studied Merkel cells in rat whisker hair follicles , because the hair follicles are functionally similar to human fingertips and have high abundance of Merkel cells. What they found was that the cells immediately fired up in response to gentle touch of whiskers.

"There was a marked response in Merkel cells; the recording trace 'spiked'. With non-Merkel cells you don't get anything," says Ikeda.

What they also found, and of equal importance, both say, was that gentle touch makes Merkel cells to fire "action potentials" and this mechano-electrical transduction was through a receptor/ion channel called the Piezo2.

"The implications here are profound," Gu says, pointing to the clinical applications of treating and preventing disease states that affect touch such as diabetes and fibromyalgia and pathological conditions such as peripheral neuropathy. Abnormal touch sensation, he says, can also be a side effect of many medical treatments such as with chemotherapy.

The discovery also has relevance to those who are blind and rely on touch to navigate a sighted world.

"This is a paradigm shift in the entire field," Gu says, pointing to touch as also indispensable for environmental exploration, tactile discrimination and other tasks in life such as modern social interaction.

"Think of the cellphone. You can hardly fit into social life without good touch sensation."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ryo Ikeda, Myeounghoon Cha, Jennifer Ling, Zhanfeng Jia, Dennis Coyle, JianguoG. Gu. Merkel Cells Transduce and Encode Tactile Stimuli to Drive Aβ-Afferent Impulses. Cell, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.02.026

Cite This Page:

University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. "Research illuminates 'touchy' subject: Sensory nerve endings." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140415125540.htm>.
University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. (2014, April 15). Research illuminates 'touchy' subject: Sensory nerve endings. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140415125540.htm
University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. "Research illuminates 'touchy' subject: Sensory nerve endings." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140415125540.htm (accessed January 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

CDC: Get Vaccinated for Measles

CDC: Get Vaccinated for Measles

Reuters - US Online Video (Jan. 30, 2015) The CDC is urging people to get vaccinated for measles amid an outbreak that began at Disneyland and has now infected more than 90 people. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama To Outline New Plan For Personalized Medicine

Obama To Outline New Plan For Personalized Medicine

Newsy (Jan. 30, 2015) President Obama is expected to speak with drugmakers Friday about his Precision Medicine Initiative first introduced last week. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

AP (Jan. 30, 2015) The NFL announced this week that the number of game concussions dropped by a quarter over last season. Still, the dangers of the sport still weigh on players, and parents&apos; minds. (Jan. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Wants to Analyze DNA from 1 Million People

U.S. Wants to Analyze DNA from 1 Million People

Reuters - US Online Video (Jan. 30, 2015) The U.S. has proposed analyzing genetic information from more than 1 million American volunteers to learn how genetic variants affect health and disease. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins