Why mice and men, and cats and dogs, all like to be stroked
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Wednesday 30 January 2013
The stroking impulse could have evolved out of the need to keep fur and hair free from parasites
A gentle stroke on the head or arm could feel pleasant because these areas of the skin contain specialised nerve cells that send "pleasure pulses" to the brain when stimulated, scientists have discovered.
The existence of special pleasure detectors in hairy skin has long been debated but now researchers have finally found strong evidence of their existence – in laboratory mice at least.
The discovery could explain why many mammals, from cats and dogs to humans, take pleasure in caressing and grooming one another, the scientists suggest. It could have evolved out of the need to keep fur and hair free of parasites.
The study, carried out by David Anderson and colleagues at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, has shown that the hairy skin on the back legs of mice contains sensory nerve endings that respond to pleasurable rubbing, but not to pain.
The study, published in Nature, showed that certain types of neurons or nerve cells in the hind legs of mice were activated when stroked. Unlike pain-detecting neurons, these nerve cells are not covered by a protective fatty sheath, which causes the nerve impulses to the brain to be transmitted at slower speed than usual.
"Despite numerous physiological studies, molecularly defined sensory neurons that detect pleasant stroking of hairy skin in vivo have not been reported," the scientists say in their study.
The new kind of nerve cells, called C-fibres, only appear to exist in hairy skin. However, it has not yet been shown that only certain C-fibres in humans are dedicated to pleasure sensing.
- 1 Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 4 Zayn Malik on Israel-Gaza: One Direction singer bombarded with Twitter death threats after posting #FreePalestine
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
Russell Brand accuses FOX News anchor Sean Hannity of terrorism after aggressive Israel-Gaza debate
Sally Farmiloe dead: Howards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, dies aged 60
Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
Australian model Robyn Lawley stages naked protest against huge coal mine seven times the size of Sydney Harbour
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
- < Previous
- Next >
£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Qualified and experi...
£21588 - £31552 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Exceptional teacher ...
£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to be part ...
£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are currently recruitin...