Scientists from Imperial College London have discovered a previously unknown way to sense light touch – directly through hair follicles.
This is evidenced by the results of a study published in Science Advances, writes Science Alert.
Previously, it was thought that only nerve endings on the skin and around hair follicles could transmit sensation.
However, the research team sequenced the RNA and found that the outer root sheath of the hair follicle has more touch-sensitive receptors than the equivalent cells in the skin.
They tested this in an experiment that showed that mechanical stimulation of a hair follicle activates the sensory nerves next to it.
This occurs through the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and histamine through tiny sacs called vesicles.
Scientists explain that nerve cells that perceive touch are called mechanoreceptors. Through them, we can feel everything from a light breeze to a firm pressure.
The scientists came to the conclusion that hair follicle cells interact exclusively with low-threshold mechanoreceptors capable of sensing gentle touches.
“This is a surprising discovery, as we do not yet know why hair follicle cells play such a role in the perception of light touch.
Because the follicle contains many sensory nerve endings, we now want to determine whether the hair follicle activates certain types of sensory nerves by an unknown but unique mechanism.”– says bioengineer from Imperial College London Claire Higgins.
The scientists note that the experiments were conducted using skin cells, not hair follicle cells. They observed the release of histamine and small amounts of serotonin.
“Our work reveals a new role for skin cells in histamine release with possible research applications eczema“, – adds Higgins.
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