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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Dec;104(6):3568-75. doi: 10.1152/jn.00415.2010. Epub 2010 Oct 6.

Differing neurophysiologic mechanosensory input from glabrous and hairy skin in juvenile rats.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1009, USA.


Sensory afferents in skin encode and convey thermal and mechanical conditions, including those that threaten tissue damage. A small proportion of skin, the glabrous skin of the distal extremities, is specialized to explore the environment in fine detail. Aside from increased innervation density, little is known regarding properties of mechanosensory afferents to glabrous skin in younger animals that explain the exquisite precision and high contrast in rapidly sampling physical structures, including those that threaten injury. To assess this, we obtained intact neuronal intracellular recordings in vivo from 115 mechanosensitive afferent neurons from lumbar and thoracic dorsal root ganglia in juvenile rats. Two characteristics were unique to glabrous skin: a threefold higher proportion of fast-conducting to slow-conducting afferents that were high-threshold mechanosensitive nociceptors compared with hairy skin and a twofold faster conduction velocity of fast-conducting nociceptors compared with hairy skin. Additionally differences were found in mechanical thresholds between glabrous skin and hairy skin for each fiber type. These differences reflect and help explain the rapid response of skin specialized to explore the physical environment. Additionally, these results highlight potential limitations of using passive electrical properties and conduction velocity alone to characterize primary afferents without knowledge of the skin type they innervated.

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