Treating gut pain via a Nobel prize-winning receptor

Targeting a receptor responsible for our sense of touch and temperature, which researchers have now found to be present in our colon, could provide a new avenue for treating chronic pain associated with gastrointestinal disorders ...

Psychology & Psychiatry

What shaking a container can teach us about touch

We shake cereal boxes and milk cartons to figure out if there is enough for breakfast. We can easily tell if there is enough toothpaste left in the tube, or if we have enough vitamin tablets left in a bottle. For these actions, ...

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Somatosensory system

The somatosensory system is a diverse sensory system comprising the receptors and processing centres to produce the sensory modalities such as touch, temperature, proprioception (body position), and nociception (pain). The sensory receptors cover the skin and epithelia, skeletal muscles, bones and joints, internal organs, and the cardiovascular system. While touch is considered one of the five traditional senses, the impression of touch is formed from several modalities; In medicine, the colloquial term touch is usually replaced with somatic senses to better reflect the variety of mechanisms involved.

The system reacts to diverse stimuli using different receptors: thermoreceptors, mechanoreceptors and chemoreceptors. Transmission of information from the receptors passes via sensory nerves through tracts in the spinal cord and into the brain. Processing primarily occurs in the primary somatosensory area in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex.

At its simplest, the system works when a sensory neuron is triggered by a specific stimulus such as heat; this neuron passes to an area in the brain uniquely attributed to that area on the body—this allows the processed stimulus to be felt at the correct location. The mapping of the body surfaces in the brain is called a homunculus and is essential in the creation of a body image.

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