Somatosensory neurons integrate the geometry of skin deformation and mechanotransduction channels to shape touch sensing

Elife. 2019 Aug 13:8:e43226. doi: 10.7554/eLife.43226.


Touch sensation hinges on force transfer across the skin and activation of mechanosensitive ion channels along the somatosensory neurons that invade the skin. This skin-nerve sensory system demands a quantitative model that spans the application of mechanical loads to channel activation. Unlike prior models of the dynamic responses of touch receptor neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans (Eastwood et al., 2015), which substituted a single effective channel for the ensemble along the TRNs, this study integrates body mechanics and the spatial recruitment of the various channels. We demonstrate that this model captures mechanical properties of the worm's body and accurately reproduces neural responses to simple stimuli. It also captures responses to complex stimuli featuring non-trivial spatial patterns, like extended or multiple contacts that could not be addressed otherwise. We illustrate the importance of these effects with new experiments revealing that skin-neuron composites respond to pre-indentation with increased currents rather than adapting to persistent stimulation.

Keywords: C. elegans; physics of living systems; somatosensory neurons response; tissue mechanics; touch sensation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Skin / anatomy & histology*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Stress, Mechanical*
  • Touch*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.82mn2ht