The sense of light touch depends upon the activity of Merkel cells, which are found in the crescent-shaped clusters in the skin, a new study has said. Light touch sense is the sense that lets musicians find the right notes on a keyboard, a seamstress revel in the feel of cool silk, the artisan feel a curve in material and the blind read Braille.
"Human, primates and any animal that relies on hands for dexterity use their Merkel cells to feel texture and shape. Merkel cells are not like pain fibres.
They exist in special areas of the skin to feel light touch. We have a lot of them on our fingertips and also on our lips," said Dr. Ellen Lumpkin, assistant professor of neuroscience, molecular physiology and biophysics and molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM).
Even though many scientists thought Merkel cells to be key elements of light touch, none of them could ever directly prove the link.
The topic has been debated for more than 100 years, since the cell were first described in 1875 by German scientist Friedrich Sigmund Merkel, after whom such cells were named.
Lumpkin's team generated mice that lacked a gene called Atoh1 in some areas of the body and, as a result, had no Merkel cells in skin located below the head.
The researchers say that experiments on these mice directly showed that link between Merkel cells and touch in way that can be seen and heard.
They plan to continue working with the cells, determining the progenitor cells from which they arise and determining how they relate to human disease.
A research article describing the study has been published in the journal Science.