The mechanosensory neurons of touch and their mechanisms of activation

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2021 Sep;22(9):521-537. doi: 10.1038/s41583-021-00489-x. Epub 2021 Jul 26.


Our sense of touch emerges from an array of mechanosensory structures residing within the fabric of our skin. These tactile end organ structures convert innocuous forces acting on the skin into electrical signals that propagate to the CNS via the axons of low-threshold mechanoreceptors (LTMRs). Our rich capacity for tactile discrimination arises from the dissimilar intrinsic properties of the LTMR subtypes that innervate different regions of the skin and the structurally distinct end organ complexes with which they associate. These end organ structures comprise a range of non-neuronal cell types, which may themselves actively contribute to the transformation of tactile forces into neural impulses within the LTMR afferents. Although the mechanism and the site of transduction across end organs remain unclear, PIEZO2 has emerged as the principal mechanosensitive channel involved in light touch of the skin. Here we review the physiological properties of LTMR subtypes and discuss how features of their cutaneous end organ complexes shape subtype-specific tuning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Skin / innervation*
  • Touch / physiology*