A group of researchers has shown that neurons in the human skin perform advanced calculations. It was previously believed that only neurons in the brain can do that.
The first order neurons conduct impulses from the skin (touch) and take the information to the spine and the brain; one of their most fundamental characteristics is that they branch dramatically in the skin, so that they can report sensitive information from several parts of the skin. But according to a team of Swedish scientists, this enables the neurons to also conduct complex calculations
“Our work has shown that two types of first-order tactile neurons that supply the sensitive skin at our fingertips not only signal information about when and how intensely an object is touched, but also information about the touched object’s shape”, says Andrew Pruszynski, who is one of the researchers behind the study.
The study also revealed the sensibility of different skin areas depends on the layout of the neuron’s highly-sensitive zones in the skin. This came as quite a surprise:
“Perhaps the most surprising result of our study is that these peripheral neurons, which are engaged when a fingertip examines an object, perform the same type of calculations done by neurons in the cerebral cortex. Somewhat simplified, it means that our touch experiences are already processed by neurons in the skin before they reach the brain for further processing”, says Andrew Pruszynski.