The somatosensory system decodes a wide range of tactile stimuli and thus endows us with a remarkable capacity for object recognition, texture discrimination, sensory-motor feedback and social exchange. The first step leading to perception of innocuous touch is activation of cutaneous sensory neurons called low-threshold mechanoreceptors (LTMRs). Here, we review the properties and functions of LTMRs, emphasizing the unique tuning properties of LTMR subtypes and the organizational logic of their peripheral and central axonal projections. We discuss the spinal cord neurophysiological representation of complex mechanical forces acting upon the skin and current views of how tactile information is processed and conveyed from the spinal cord to the brain. An integrative model in which ensembles of impulses arising from physiologically distinct LTMRs are integrated and processed in somatotopically aligned mechanosensory columns of the spinal cord dorsal horn underlies the nervous system's enormous capacity for perceiving the richness of the tactile world.
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