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Mystery of ‘gentle touch’ decoded

world Updated: Dec 11, 2012 00:44 IST

Scientists have uncovered the molecular basis of gentle touch and in a study on fruit flies found that without a key protein many organisms may be insensitive to stroking.

Our ability to sense gentle touch develops early and remains ever-present but it is the least understood of the senses scientifically, because, unlike vision or taste, scientists have not known the identity of the molecules that mediate it.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) identified the exact subset of nerve cells responsible for communicating gentle touch to the brains of Drosophila larvae — class III neurons.

Scientists stroked the body of a newborn fruit fly larva ever-so-gently with a freshly plucked eyelash, and it responded to the tickle by altering its movement.
The finding is a milestone since it defines the exact nerves and uncovers the identity of the NOMPC channel, a major molecular player.