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 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
The City of the Monkey God: Archaeologists claim to have found city lost for 1,000 years in remote Honduran jungle
Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
London property boom built on dirty money
Becky Watts: Stepbrother and his girlfriend named locally as two arrested on suspicion of murder
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...
£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...
£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...
£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...