Four channels mediate the mechanical aspects of touch

J Acoust Soc Am. 1988 Nov;84(5):1680-94. doi: 10.1121/1.397184.


Although previous physiological and anatomical experiments have identified four afferent fiber types (PC, RA, SA II, and SA I) in glabrous (nonhairy) skin of the human somatosensory periphery, only three have been shown to mediate tactile (mechanoreceptive) sensation. Psychophysical evidence that four channels (P, NP I, NP II, and NP III) do, indeed, participate in the perceptual process is presented. In a series of experiments involving selective masking of the various channels, modification of the skin-surface temperature, and testing cutaneous sensitivity down to very low-vibratory frequencies, the fourth psychophysical channel (NP III) is defined. Based on these experiments and previous work from our laboratory, it is concluded that the four channels work in conjunction at threshold to create an operating range for the perception of vibration that extends from at least 0.4 to greater than 500 Hz. Each of the four channels appears to mediate specific portions of the overall threshold-frequency characteristic. Selection of appropriate neural-response criteria from previously published physiological data and correlation of their derived frequency characteristics with the four psychophysical channels indicates that each channel has its own physiological substrate: P channel and PC fibers, NP I channel and RA fibers, NP II channel and SA II fibers, and NP III channel and SA I fibers. These channels partially overlap in their absolute sensitivities, making it likely that suprathreshold stimuli may activate two or more of the channels at the same time. Thus the perceptual qualities of touch may be determined by the combined inputs from four channels.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Pacinian Corpuscles / physiology
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Skin Temperature
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Vibration*