Neural mechanisms of spatial tactile discrimination: neural patterns evoked by braille-like dot patterns in the monkey. Academic Article uri icon


  • 1. The experiments reported here were designed to investigate the responses of cutaneous mechanoreceptive afferents to spatially configured dot patterns scanned across the skin. Braille-like patterns were selected because the discrimination of Braille characters must depend on spatial patterning rather than some other facet of the afferent discharge. 2. A multifactorial experimental design was used in which each afferent fibre was studied using every combination of six dot patterns, two dot sizes, two dot spacings, two contact forces and two scanning velocities. Two other factors, scanning direction relative to the skin ridges and intermittent versus continuous scanning, were studied. 3. Beside the general question concerning the response properties of the mechanoreceptive afferents, three major questions were addressed here. (i) What is the critical spatial dimension at which neural spatial patterning breaks down and below which tactual discrimination must depend on facets of the afferent discharge other than spatial neural patterning? (ii) Which mechanoreceptive population sets this critical dimension? (iii) Why is tactual discrimination enhanced by lateral scanning? 4. The results presented here suggest that the critical dimension, below which spatial neural patterning breaks down, is of the order of 1.0 mm and that the slowly adapting (SA) afferent fibres are responsible for this limit. 5. At dimensions above approximately 1.0 mm the spatial contrast between peaks and troughs in the SA discharge is markedly enhanced during scanning. When the skin is stationary the discharge rates in the SA population drop rapidly to low levels. A second possible reason for enhanced tactual discrimination during scanning is related to the increased spatiotemporal information in a coherent pattern of neural activity moving across a discrete population of afferent fibres. 6. The effects of variations in conduction velocity are analysed and it is shown that they place serious constraints on the transmission of spatiotemporal information.

publication date

  • January 1, 1981