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Scientists Reveal The Secret Of Cuddles

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 656 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... SCIENTISTS REVEAL THE SECRET OF CUDDLES By Gaia Vince
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 29, 2002
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      SCIENTISTS REVEAL THE SECRET OF CUDDLES
      By Gaia Vince
      New Scientist
      July 28, 2002

      http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992598
       
      Scientists have discovered why being cuddled feels so good - human skin has
      a special network of nerves that stimulate a pleasurable response to
      stroking.

      The revelation came after doctors realised that a woman with no sense of
      touch still felt a "pleasant" sensation when her skin was caressed.

      Normal touch is transmitted to the brain through a network of
      fast-conducting nerves, called myelinated fibres, which carry signals at 60
      metres per second. But there is a second slow-conducting nerve network of
      unmyelinated fibres, called C-tactile (CT), the role of which was unknown.
      The CT network carries signals at just one metre per second.

      "It must be used for unconscious aspects of touch because it is so slow,"
      says Håkan Olausson, who led the study at the Department of Clinical
      Neurophysiology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden. "It seems the CT
      network conveys emotions, or a sense of self."

      "This study definitely helps our understanding of how touch systems work,"
      says Brian Fiske, assistant editor at Nature Neuroscience. "The researchers
      were very fortunate to have found a patient who had lost the main touch
      receptors but still had the slow CT fibres."

      Below the nose

      Scientists have known for some time that myelinated nerve fibres transmit
      information about touch, such as its strength and position. But the function
      of CT fibres was a mystery. This was because it is impossible to distinguish
      the CT fibre signals from those of the continuously activated fast
      myelinated fibre.

      The patient examined by the Swedish researchers had a disorder that left her
      with no myelinated touch fibres in her body below the level of her nose. But
      her CT fibres remained intact.

      Olausson stroked the patient's arm and hand with a paintbrush. Although she
      could not feel touch, tickle or vibration, the patient said she experienced
      a "pleasant" pressure when her arm was caressed with a paintbrush.

      MRI scans of her brain revealed that the stroking activated insular region
      of the cerebral cortex associated with emotional response.

      Hairy skin

      The researchers concluded that the CT system may be of important for
      emotional, hormonal and behavioural responses to tactile stimulation.

      "They are the opposite to pain fibres and give the message that the touch is
      non- harmful," Olausson told New Scientist. "Stimulation of CT fibres is
      probably linked to the release of pleasure hormones, like oxytocin. Studies
      have shown that if you stroke infants, their levels of oxytocin increase."

      Further research by the Swedish team suggests that CT fibres are only
      present in hairy skin - the patient showed no response to the palm of her
      hand being stroked.

      Olausson speculates that because the hand is used for so many critical
      tasks, it needs to be very sensitive to touch and therefore has a greater
      density of faster- conducting nerves.

      Journal reference: Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/nn896)

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