Influence of object shape on responses of human tactile afferents under conditions characteristic of manipulation

Eur J Neurosci. 2003 Jul;18(1):164-76. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2003.02721.x.


Most objects that we grasp, lift and further manipulate are curved, with curvatures of the same order of magnitude as those of the fingertips. Tactile information pertaining to such 'gross' geometrical features of objects are used in the automatic control of fingertip actions. We analyzed responses from 172 human tactile afferents distributed over the entire terminal phalanx when spherically shaped surfaces were applied to a standard site on the fingertip; the curvatures and force magnitudes and directions used were representative of everyday manipulations. Nearly all SA-I, SA-II and FA-I afferents responded, and for more than 80% of these afferents the response intensity was correlated with curvature. The correlation was positive for approximately half the afferents and negative for the other half, resulting in a curvature contrast signal within the populations of tactile afferents; afferents terminating at the sides and end of the fingertip tended to show negative correlations. For nearly all afferents, curvature and force direction had interactive effects. Changing the direction of force affected an afferent's sensitivity to curvature and vice versa. We conclude that recognition of such shapes takes advantage of signals originating from tactile afferents distributed over the entire terminal phalanx, and that both the direction of fingertip forces and the curvatures of objects contacted during natural manipulations influence the afferents' responses. Consequently, if humans are able to perceive independently curvature and force direction from signals in tactile afferents, then the CNS must possess mechanisms that disentangle interactions between these and other parameters of stimuli on the fingertips.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Hand / innervation
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Skin / innervation
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Transducers