A new understanding of the sense of touch
A research team including University of Wyoming neurobiologist Jeff Woodbury has discovered a new technique to determine how the touch sensory system is organized in hairy skin, providing a new understanding of the sense of touch.
Their findings were selected to appear as the feature and cover article in Cell, one of the pre-eminent international journals in the biological sciences.
The research provides the first picture of how nerve cells that carry signals from hair on the skin are organized. Unlike all other senses, the skin is least amenable to study and has remained the most poorly understood.
“We have described the system that is in place to help explain how sensory information is processed to perceive the sense of touch,” says Woodbury, an associate professor in the UW Department of Zoology and Physiology . He was part of a multidisciplinary research team led by David Ginty from Johns Hopkins University. Colleen Cassidy, a doctoral student in Woodbury’s lab, was a co-author of the study, which also included colleagues from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Rockefeller University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh.
“We have also been able to identify how combinations of nerve cells respond to fine-tactile stimuli, so we can now really begin to tease apart the circuitry of touch sensation,” Woodbury adds. “One of the real breakthroughs is that, for the first time in more than 200 years of study, we now know the specific functions of some of the many different kinds of nerve endings in the skin. This is truly exciting and a major advance.”