A simple model of mechanotransduction in primate glabrous skin

J Neurophysiol. 2013 Mar;109(5):1350-9. doi: 10.1152/jn.00395.2012. Epub 2012 Dec 12.


Tactile stimulation of the hand evokes highly precise and repeatable patterns of activity in mechanoreceptive afferents; the strength (i.e., firing rate) and timing of these responses have been shown to convey stimulus information. To achieve an understanding of the mechanisms underlying the representation of tactile stimuli in the nerve, we developed a two-stage computational model consisting of a nonlinear mechanical transduction stage followed by a generalized integrate-and-fire mechanism. The model improves upon a recently published counterpart in two important ways. First, complexity is dramatically reduced (at least one order of magnitude fewer parameters). Second, the model comprises a saturating nonlinearity and therefore can be applied to a much wider range of stimuli. We show that both the rate and timing of afferent responses are predicted with remarkable precision and that observed adaptation patterns and threshold behavior are well captured. We conclude that the responses of mechanoreceptive afferents can be understood using a very parsimonious mechanistic model, which can then be used to accurately simulate the responses of afferent populations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Reaction Time
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Skin / innervation