Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, identified a neural circuit and neuropeptide in mice that transmits the sensation of pleasant touch from the skin to the brain.
The neural pathway for pleasant touch works in a similar manner to those that transmit itching or pain sensations. Researchers were able to identify and isolate the pleasant touch neural pathway in mice by devising an experiment where mice were able to choose between a chamber where they received pleasant brushing or one where they received no stimulus of any kind. The mice preferred the chamber where they would be brushed. Scientists found that a certain neuropeptide, prokinecticin 2, was responsible for transmitting the sensation of pleasant touch, and that mice bred without the neuropeptide were unable to sense pleasant touch but reacted normally to itchy, painful, or other stimuli.
Principal investigator Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD, director of the Center for the Study of Itch & Sensory Disorders at Washington University, says the findings are “important, because now that we know which neuropeptide and receptor transmit only pleasant touch sensations, it may be possible to enhance pleasant touch signals without interfering with other circuits, which is crucial because pleasant touch boosts several hormones in the brain that are essential for social interactions and mental health.”
The study was published in the journal Science. Read the abstract at https://doi.org/ 10.1126/science.abn2479.