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Nat Neurosci. 2014 Oct;17(10):1404-9. doi: 10.1038/nn.3804. Epub 2014 Aug 31.

Edge-orientation processing in first-order tactile neurons.

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Physiology Section, Department of Integrative Medical Biology, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.


A fundamental feature of first-order neurons in the tactile system is that their distal axon branches in the skin and forms many transduction sites, yielding complex receptive fields with many highly sensitive zones. We found that this arrangement constitutes a peripheral neural mechanism that allows individual neurons to signal geometric features of touched objects. Specifically, we observed that two types of first-order tactile neurons that densely innervate the glabrous skin of the human fingertips signaled edge orientation via both the intensity and the temporal structure of their responses. Moreover, we found that the spatial layout of a neuron's highly sensitive zones predicted its sensitivity to particular edge orientations. We submit that peripheral neurons in the touch-processing pathway, as with peripheral neurons in the visual-processing pathway, perform feature extraction computations that are typically attributed to neurons in the cerebral cortex.

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