Molecular and neural basis of pleasant touch sensation

Science. 2022 Apr 29;376(6592):483-491. doi: 10.1126/science.abn2479. Epub 2022 Apr 28.


Pleasant touch provides emotional and psychological support that helps mitigate social isolation and stress. However, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Using a pleasant touch-conditioned place preference (PT-CPP) test, we show that genetic ablation of spinal excitatory interneurons expressing prokineticin receptor 2 (PROKR2), or its ligand PROK2 in sensory neurons, abolishes PT-CPP without impairing pain and itch behaviors in mice. Mutant mice display profound impairments in stress response and prosocial behaviors. Moreover, PROKR2 neurons respond most vigorously to gentle stroking and encode reward value. Collectively, we identify PROK2 as a long-sought neuropeptide that encodes and transmits pleasant touch to spinal PROKR2 neurons. These findings may have important implications for elucidating mechanisms by which pleasant touch deprivation contributes to social avoidance behavior and mental disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Mice
  • Sensory Receptor Cells
  • Touch Perception* / physiology
  • Touch*