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Exp Dermatol. 2015 May;24(5):321-4. doi: 10.1111/exd.12639. Epub 2015 Mar 9.

Somatosensory pleasure circuit: from skin to brain and back.

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School of Psychology, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.


The skin senses serve a discriminative function, allowing us to manipulate objects and detect touch and temperature, and an affective/emotional function, manifested as itch or pain when the skin is damaged. Two different classes of nerve fibre mediate these dissociable aspects of cutaneous somatosensation: (i) myelinated A-beta and A-delta afferents that provide rapid information about the location and physical characteristics of skin contact; and (ii) unmyelinated, slow-conducting C-fibre afferents that are typically associated with coding the emotional properties of pain and itch. However, recent research has identified a third class of C-fibre afferents that code for the pleasurable properties of touch - c-tactile afferents or CTs. Clinical application of treatments that target pleasant, CT-mediated touch (such as massage therapy) could, in the future, provide a complementary, non-pharmacological means of treating both the physical and psychological aspects of chronic skin conditions such as itch and eczema.


c-tactile fibres; itch; massage therapy; pain; pleasant touch

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