Sensory Receptors of Skin
They can be mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors or nociceptors
Mechanoreceptors of the skin
Mechanoreceptors are specialized sensory receptors in the skin that respond to mechanical stimuli, such as pressure, vibration, and touch. They play a crucial role in our ability to perceive and interpret tactile sensations. Mechanoreceptors can be further classified based on their adaptation properties into fast adapting and slow-adapting receptors.
- Fast adapting mechanoreceptors: These receptors respond rapidly to changes in mechanical stimuli but quickly adapt to a constant stimulus. They provide information about the initial onset and offset of a stimulus. Fast adapting receptors include:
- Meissner’s corpuscles: These receptors are found close to the skin’s surface, particularly in areas like fingertips, lips, and palms. They are highly sensitive to light touch and low-frequency vibrations. For example, they help us feel the texture of an object or detect the gentle touch of a feather.
- Pacinian corpuscles: These receptors are located in deeper layers of the skin and are more sensitive to deep pressure and high-frequency vibrations. They are responsible for perceiving sensations like strong pressure or vibrations, such as when you feel a deep massage or the vibration of a cell phone.
- Slow adapting mechanoreceptors: These receptors continue to respond to a sustained stimulus and do not adapt as quickly as the fast adapting receptors. They provide ongoing information about the continuous presence of a stimulus. Slow adapting receptors include:
- Merkel cells: These receptors are located in the upper layers of the skin and are involved in tactile discrimination and fine touch. They contribute to our ability to detect and differentiate textures, shapes, and edges.
- Ruffini corpuscles: These receptors are found in deeper layers of the skin and respond to sustained pressure and stretching. They provide information about the skin’s stretching or displacement, helping us perceive sensations like skin stretching during a grasp or a sustained touch.
- Hair follicle receptors: These receptors are associated with hair follicles and are involved in detecting hair movement or displacement. They provide information about light touch or movement on the skin surface.
- C-fibers: C-fibers are a type of nerve fiber that can transmit signals related to both pain and itch. While not classified as separate mechanoreceptors, they can be involved in the sensation of itch when activated by certain irritants or substances that trigger itchiness.
Fast adapting mechanoreceptors are highly sensitive to changes in touch or pressure. When you first apply pressure or touch a specific area, these receptors respond quickly and send signals to your brain, allowing you to perceive the initial contact. However, if the pressure or touch remains constant, these receptors adapt or become less responsive over time. This adaptation means that the receptors become less sensitive to a continuous stimulus and focus more on detecting changes or new stimuli.
To illustrate this, think of the sensation when you put on a piece of clothing. Initially, you feel the fabric against your skin very distinctly, but as time passes, you become less aware of the sensation even though the fabric is still in contact with your skin. This is because the fast adapting mechanoreceptors have adapted to the constant stimulus of the clothing, and their responsiveness decreases.
In contrast, slow adapting mechanoreceptors continue to respond and provide information about the ongoing pressure or touch, even if the stimulus remains constant. They do not adapt as quickly as fast adapting receptors, so you can maintain a sense of continuous pressure or touch with their input.
By combining the input from different types of mechanoreceptors, our brain can form a rich sensory perception of touch and pressure, enabling us to interact with the environment and experience tactile sensations in various ways.
These receptors are responsible for detecting temperature changes in the skin. They can be divided into two types:
- Cold receptors: Activated by a decrease in temperature, they help perceive sensations of coldness.
- Warm receptors: Activated by an increase in temperature, they help perceive sensations of warmth.
These receptors are responsible for detecting pain. They respond to various harmful stimuli, such as heat, cold, pressure, and chemicals, and transmit pain signals to the brain.
Sensory Nerve fibers
- Based on Diameter:
- A-alpha fibers: Largest diameter fibers, heavily myelinated, and conduct nerve impulses at high speeds. They are responsible for proprioception (muscle position sense) and motor signals to skeletal muscles.
- A-beta fibers: Large diameter fibers, myelinated, and conduct nerve impulses at a moderate speed. They transmit touch, pressure, and vibration sensations.
- A-gamma fibers: Medium-sized fibers, myelinated, and conduct nerve impulses at a moderate speed. They are involved in the motor control of muscle spindles.
- A-delta fibers: Medium-sized fibers, lightly myelinated, and conduct nerve impulses at a moderate speed. They transmit sharp, localized pain and temperature sensations.
- B fibers: Small diameter fibers, lightly myelinated, and conduct nerve impulses at a slower speed. They transmit autonomic motor signals and some sensory information.
- C fibers: Smallest diameter fibers, unmyelinated, and conduct nerve impulses at a slow speed. They transmit dull, burning, and aching pain sensations, as well as itch and temperature information.
- Based on Myelination:
- Myelinated fibers: Nerve fibers that have a myelin sheath, which is a fatty insulating layer surrounding the axon. Myelination speeds up the conduction of nerve impulses and is characteristic of A-alpha, A-beta, A-gamma, and A-delta fibers.
- Unmyelinated fibers: Nerve fibers that lack a myelin sheath and have a slower conduction speed. C fibers are unmyelinated.
- Based on Conduction Speed:
- Fast-conducting fibers: A-alpha, A-beta, A-gamma, and most A-delta fibers fall into this category, conducting nerve impulses at higher speeds.
- Slow-conducting fibers: C fibers are slower-conducting fibers.
- Based on Function:
- Sensory (afferent) fibers: These fibers transmit sensory information from the peripheral sensory receptors to the central nervous system. They include A-alpha, A-beta, A-gamma, A-delta, and C fibers.
- Motor (efferent) fibers: These fibers transmit motor signals from the central nervous system to muscles and glands. A-alpha, A-gamma, and B fibers are motor fibers.
It’s important to note that this classification is a simplification, and there can be further subdivisions and variations within each category. Additionally, nerve fiber characteristics can vary depending on the location and function within the body. Let’s look at the details of nerve fibers originating from the skin.
- A-delta fibers:
- Diameter: A-delta fibers are small- to medium-sized myelinated nerve fibers.
- Conduction speed: They conduct nerve impulses relatively quickly, at a moderate speed.
- Function: A-delta fibers are primarily involved in the transmission of sharp, localized, and fast pain signals. They are responsible for the initial sharp sensation experienced during injury or trauma.
- Sensitivity: A-delta fibers respond to mechanical and thermal stimuli, detecting sudden temperature changes, intense pressure, or mechanical damage to the tissues.
- Distribution: They are found in various tissues throughout the body, including the skin, muscles, and organs.
- A-beta fibers:
- Diameter: A-beta fibers are large myelinated nerve fibers.
- Conduction speed: They conduct nerve impulses at a fast speed.
- Function: A-beta fibers are responsible for transmitting touch, vibration, and proprioceptive (position sense) information.
- Sensitivity: A-beta fibers are less sensitive to pain and more sensitive to touch and pressure compared to A-delta fibers and C-fibers.
- Distribution: They are abundant in the skin, particularly in areas where fine touch discrimination is important, such as the fingertips.
- Diameter: C-fibers are small unmyelinated nerve fibers.
- Conduction speed: They conduct nerve impulses at a slower speed compared to myelinated fibers.
- Function: C-fibers transmit slow, dull, and prolonged pain signals. They are involved in the perception of throbbing, burning, or aching pain.
- Sensitivity: C-fibers respond to a wide range of stimuli, including mechanical, thermal, and chemical stimuli. They are also involved in the transmission of itch sensations.
- Distribution: C-fibers are distributed throughout the body, including the skin, mucous membranes, and internal organs.
It’s important to note that A-delta fibers and C-fibers are involved in the transmission of pain signals, but they differ in terms of conduction speed, sensitivity, and the nature of the pain they convey. A-delta fibers transmit acute, sharp pain signals, while C-fibers transmit slower, more persistent pain signals.
These classifications of nerve fibers help in understanding the different sensory experiences we encounter, such as sharp pain, touch, pressure, and prolonged pain sensations. They contribute to our overall perception and interpretation of sensory information from the environment and our body.