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Why wet feels wet? A neurophysiological model of human cutaneous wetness sensitivity

journal contribution
posted on 2014-08-21, 13:37 authored by Davide Filingeri, Damien Fournet, Simon HodderSimon Hodder, George HavenithGeorge Havenith
Although the ability to sense skin wetness and humidity is critical for behavioral and autonomic adaptations, humans are not provided with specific skin receptors for sensing wetness. It has been proposed that we "learn" to perceive the wetness experienced when the skin is in contact with a wet surface or when sweat is produced through a multisensory integration of thermal and tactile inputs generated by the interaction between skin and moisture. However, the individual role of thermal and tactile cues and how these are integrated peripherally and centrally by our nervous system is still poorly understood. Here we tested the hypothesis that the central integration of coldness and mechanosensation, as subserved by peripheral A-nerve afferents, might be the primary neural process underpinning human wetness sensitivity. During a quantitative sensory test, we found that individuals perceived warm-wet and neutral-wet stimuli as significantly less wet than cold-wet ones, although these were characterized by the same moisture content. Also, when cutaneous cold and tactile sensitivity was diminished by a selective reduction in the activity of A-nerve afferents, wetness perception was significantly reduced. Based on a concept of perceptual learning and Bayesian perceptual inference, we developed the first neurophysiological model of cutaneous wetness sensitivity centered on the multisensory integration of cold and mechano sensitive skin afferents. Our results provide evidence for the existence of a specific information processing model which underpins the neural representation of a typical wet stimulus. These findings contribute to explain how humans sense warm, neutral and cold skin wetness.



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Journal of Neurophysiology




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FILINGERI, D. ... et al, 2014. Why wet feels wet? A neurophysiological model of human cutaneous wetness sensitivity. Journal of Neurophysiology, 112 (6), pp. 1457-1469.


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