Researchers study touch receptors


News Services Staff

OUR TACTILE capabilities are central to almost all that we do. "Touch is the first sensory system that goes on-line when you're born, and it's probably the last one to go," says Jonathon Bell, mathematics professor at UB.

Along with Bell, Mark Holmes, professor and chair of mathematics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Stanley Bolonowski, of the Institute for Sensory Research at Syracuse University, are exploring the sensation by modeling phenomena that occur at the level of the skin's touch receptors.

One such receptor, called the Pacinian corpuscle, transduces the sensation from the surface of the skin to a nerve, which then sends electrical signals to the brain.

"This is a very complicated bulb-like structure composed of a nerve ending surrounded by many fluid and elastic membrane layers," said Bell. "The question is, 'Why does this receptor need so much structure?'"

To find out, the researchers are trying to differentiate which behaviors of the Pacinian corpuscle are caused by properties of the nerve and which are caused by mechanical processes.

So far, they have developed a three-dimensional mathematical model of the corpuscle and its corresponding nerve.

Their work has been published in Mathematical Biosciences, Progress in Neurobiology and the Journal of Mathematical Biology.

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