Touch is a team effort: interplay of submodalities in cutaneous sensibility

Trends Neurosci. 2014 Dec;37(12):689-97. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2014.08.012. Epub 2014 Sep 22.


Traditionally, different classes of cutaneous mechanoreceptive afferents are ascribed different and largely non-overlapping functional roles (for example texture or motion) stemming from their different response properties. This functional segregation is thought to be reflected in cortex, where each neuron receives input from a single submodality. We summarize work that challenges this notion. First, while it is possible to design artificial stimuli that preferentially excite a single afferent class, most natural stimuli excite all afferents and most tactile percepts are shaped by multiple submodalities. Second, closer inspection of cortical responses reveals that most neurons receive convergent input from multiple afferent classes. We argue that cortical neurons should be grouped based on their function rather than on their submodality composition.

Keywords: neural coding; perception; somatosensory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*