Finger movement responses of cutaneous mechanoreceptors in the dorsal skin of the human hand

J Neurophysiol. 1991 Mar;65(3):657-70. doi: 10.1152/jn.1991.65.3.657.


1. The movement sensitivity of dorsal skin mechanoreceptors in the human hand was studied by the use of single afferent recording techniques. 2. Units were classified as slowly (SA) and fast adapting (FA) and further characterized by thresholds to vertical indentation and by receptive-field sizes. Whereas SA units were evenly distributed within the supply area of the superficial branch of the radial nerve. FA units were usually situated near joints. 3. The proportion of different receptor types (32% SAI, 32% SAII, 28% FAI, 8% FAII; n = 107) compared favorably with previous electrophysiological and anatomic data, arguing for minimal sampling bias. The majority of the skin mechanoreceptive units were SA, largely due to a relative scarcity of FAII [Pacinian corpuscles (PC)] units. 4. A large majority (92%) of the afferents responded to active hand or finger movements. Responses in all unit types were consistent with observed movement-induced deformations of their receptive fields. 5. FAI units responded bidirectionally, albeit usually with somewhat higher discharge frequencies for finger flexion, which in most cases were associated with skin stretch. FAI units showed meager responses to remote stimuli, typically responding to one or, at the most, two adjacent joints. 6. SA units typically showed simple directional responses to joint movements with an increased discharge during flexion and a reduced discharge during extension. Joint movement that influenced the skin within the receptive field of SA units elicited graded responses even if the field, as assessed by perpendicular indentations, was minute. This finding suggests that definition of cutaneous receptive fields by classical perpendicular indentations may be inappropriate for the receptors in the hairy, nonglabrous skin. 7. The interpretation of the data from these recordings suggests that cutaneous mechanoreceptors in the dorsal skin can provide the CNS with detailed kinematic information, at least for movements of the hand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Hand / anatomy & histology
  • Hand / innervation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Skin / innervation*