Encyclopedia of Computational Neuroscience

2015 Edition
| Editors: Dieter Jaeger, Ranu Jung

Cutaneous Mechanoreceptive Afferents: Neural Coding of Texture

  • Justin LieberEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6675-8_379


We can identify objects by the way they feel. As we move our fingers over objects in our pocket or purse, we can easily distinguish between our keys and our phone or between two different fabrics in our dresser drawer. The tactile perception of the surface texture of objects, i.e., of their microstructure and material properties, contributes to our ability to identify them by touch. Signals in the nerve convey information that allows us to identify different textures, as well as attribute different perceptual properties (e.g., roughness or hardness) to them.

Detailed Description

Spatial and Temporal Mechanisms

When we run our fingers across a textured surface, a characteristic pattern of deformations is produced in the skin (Sripati et al. 2006), and the resulting stresses and strains are transduced by multiple populations of mechanoreceptors embedded in the skin. The spatial layout and timing of the consequent spatiotemporal patterns of afferent activation convey...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bensmaia SJ, Hollins M (2003) The vibrations of texture. Somatosens Mot Res 20(1):33–43PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bensmaia S, Hollins M (2005) Pacinian representations of fine surface texture. Percept Psychophys 67(5):842–854PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bensmaia SJ et al (2008) The representation of stimulus orientation in the early stages of somatosensory processing. J Neurosci 28(3):776–786PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Birznieks I et al (2001) Encoding of direction of fingertip forces by human tactile afferents. J Neurosci 21(20):8222–8237PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Birznieks I et al (2010) Encoding of tangential torque in responses of tactile afferent fibres innervating the fingerpad of the monkey. J Physiol 588(Pt 7):1057–1072PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Blake DT, Hsiao SS, Johnson KO (1997) Neural coding mechanisms in tactile pattern recognition: the relative contributions of slowly and rapidly adapting mechanoreceptors to perceived roughness. J Neurosci 17(19):7480–7489PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Condon M et al (2013) Differential sensitivity to surface compliance by tactile afferents in the human finger pad. J Neurophysiol 111:1308–1317PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Connor CE, Johnson KO (1992) Neural coding of tactile texture: comparison of spatial and temporal mechanisms for roughness perception. J Neurosci 12(9):3414–3426PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Connor CE et al (1990) Tactile roughness: neural codes that account for psychophysical magnitude estimates. J Neurosci 10(12):3823–3836PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Darian-Smith I, Johnson KO, Dykes R (1973) “Cold” fiber population innervating palmar and digital skin of the monkey: responses to cooling pulses. J Neurophysiol 36(2):325–346PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Darian-Smith I et al (1979) Warm fibers innervating palmar and digital skin of the monkey: responses to thermal stimuli. J Neurophysiol 42(5):1297–1315PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Franzén O, Johansson R, Terenius LY (1996) Somesthesis and the neurobiology of the somatosensory cortex. In: Advances in life sciences. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Boston, xx, 421 ppGoogle Scholar
  13. Harper R, Stevens SS (1964) Subjective hardness of compliant materials. Q J Exp Psychol 16(3):204–215Google Scholar
  14. Ho HN, Jones LA (2006) Contribution of thermal cues to material discrimination and localization. Percept Psychophys 68(1):118–128PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Hollins M, Risner SR (2000) Evidence for the duplex theory of tactile texture perception. Percept Psychophys 62(4):695–705PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hollins M et al (2000) Individual differences in perceptual space for tactile textures: evidence from multidimensional scaling. Percept Psychophys 62(8):1534–1544PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Johansson RS, Vallbo AB (1979) Tactile sensibility in the human hand: relative and absolute densities of four types of mechanoreceptive units in glabrous skin. J Physiol 286:283–300PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Johnson KO (2001) The roles and functions of cutaneous mechanoreceptors. Curr Opin Neurobiol 11(4):455–461PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Johnson KO, Darian-Smith I, LaMotte C (1973) Peripheral neural determinants of temperature discrimination in man: a correlative study of responses to cooling skin. J Neurophysiol 36(2):347–370PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Johnson KO et al (1979) Coding of incremental changes in skin temperature by a population of warm fibers in the monkey: correlation with intensity discrimination in man. J Neurophysiol 42(5):1332–1353PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Katz D, Krueger LE (1989) The world of touch. Erlbaum, Hillsdale. xii 260 ppGoogle Scholar
  22. Knibestol M (1975) Stimulus-response functions of slowly adapting mechanoreceptors in the human glabrous skin area. J Physiol 245(1):63–80PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. LaMotte RH (2000) Softness discrimination with a tool. J Neurophysiol 83(4):1777–1786PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Mackevicius EL et al (2012) Millisecond precision spike timing shapes tactile perception. J Neurosci 32(44):15309–15317PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Manfredi LR et al (2014) Natural scenes in tactile texture. J Neurophysiol. (doi:10.1152/jn.00680.2013)Google Scholar
  26. Pei YC et al (2010) Shape invariant coding of motion direction in somatosensory cortex. PLoS Biol 8(2):e1000305PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Phillips JR, Johnson KO, Hsiao SS (1988) Spatial pattern representation and transformation in monkey somatosensory cortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 85(4):1317–1321PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Smith AM, Scott SH (1996) Subjective scaling of smooth surface friction. J Neurophysiol 75(5):1957–1962PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Srinivasan MA, Lamotte RH (1995) Tactual discrimination of softness. J Neurophysiol 73(1):88–101PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Sripati AP, Bensmaia SJ, Johnson KO (2006) A continuum mechanical model of mechanoreceptive afferent responses to indented spatial patterns. J Neurophysiol 95(6):3852–3864PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Talbot WH et al (1968) The sense of flutter-vibration: comparison of the human capacity with response patterns of mechanoreceptive afferents from the monkey hand. J Neurophysiol 31(2):301–334PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Wark B, Lundstrom BN, Fairhall A (2007) Sensory adaptation. Curr Opin Neurobiol 17(4):423–429PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Weber AI et al (2013) Spatial and temporal codes mediate the tactile perception of natural textures. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110(42):17107–17112PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Yau JM, Connor CE, Hsiao SS (2013) Representation of tactile curvature in macaque somatosensory area 2. J Neurophysiol 109(12):2999–3012PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Committee on Computational NeuroscienceUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA