Body mapping of cutaneous wetness perception across the human torso during thermo-neutral and warm environmental exposures

Sensing skin wetness is linked to inputs arising from cutaneous cold-sensitive afferents. As thermosensitivity to cold varies significantly across the torso, we investigated whether similar regional differences in wetness perception exist. We also investigated the regional differences in thermal pleasantness and whether these sensory patterns are influenced by ambient temperature. Sixteen males (20 ± 2 yr) underwent a quantitative sensory test under thermo-neutral [air temperature (Tair) = 22°C; relative humidity (RH) = 50%] and warm conditions (Tair = 33°C; RH = 50%). Twelve regions of the torso were stimulated with a dry thermal probe (25 cm2) with a temperature of 15°C below local skin temperature (Tsk). Variations in Tsk, thermal, wetness, and pleasantness sensations were recorded. As a result of the same cold-dry stimulus, the skin-cooling response varied significantly by location (P = 0.003). The lateral chest showed the greatest cooling (−5 ± 0.4°C), whereas the lower back showed the smallest (−1.9 ± 0.4°C). Thermal sensations varied significantly by location and independently from regional variations in skin cooling with colder sensations reported on the lateral abdomen and lower back. Similarly, the frequency of perceived skin wetness was significantly greater on the lateral and lower back as opposed to the medial chest. Overall wetness perception was slightly higher under warm conditions. Significantly more unpleasant sensations were recorded when the lateral abdomen and lateral and lower back were stimulated. We conclude that humans present regional differences in skin wetness perception across the torso, with a pattern similar to the regional differences in thermosensitivity to cold. These findings indicate the presence of a heterogeneous distribution of cold-sensitive thermo-afferent information.