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.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
musicPolice chief rejects rappers' claims that his work is as dangerous as law enforcement or military service
comedy'Fresh Meat' star sees off stiff competition from Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and Sarah Millican to win top prize
healthJames Bond's alcohol consumption puts him at 'high risk' of cirrhosis, tremors... and impotence
Beatles rush out 'bootleg' album to defy EU copyright law
Harvey Weinstein reveals his secret weapon on-set
Now that an oil trader's drinking has got him sacked, will we all have to make do with an afternoon latte?
French café starts charging extra to rude customers
Mystery of Epping Forest 'big cat' is solved
North Korea executes Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek for 'attempting to overthrow the state'
Australia incest case: Deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
- 1 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Australia incest case: Deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- 4 Physicists discover 'clearest evidence yet' that the Universe is a hologram
- 5 Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
- < Previous
- Next >
Competitive: Randstad Education Birmingham: Primary School Teaching Assistant ...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: BirminghamHere at Randstad Educatio...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: EBD teacher required for secondary ...
Competitive: Randstad Education London: We are working with a Client School an...