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Stroking can ease pain signals received by brain: study

Specialised nerve fibres called CT nerves or C-tactile in the skin, which directly tell the brain when we are being stroked slowly, can also relieve pain. A Swedish academy made the discovery.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 15, 2009 21:27 IST

Specialised nerve fibres in the skin, which directly tell the brain when we are being stroked slowly, can also relieve pain.

Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden made the new discovery about these fibres called CT nerves or C-tactile can do. "Basically the signals that tell the brain that we are being stroked have their own direct route to the brain, and are not blocked even if the brain is receiving pain impulses from the same area," said Line L'ken, postgraduate neurophysiology student at Sahlgrenska Academy. In fact it's more the opposite, that the stroking impulses are able to deaden the pain impulses," he added.

The research group examined a group of healthy subjects using a technique called microneurography. "By inserting a thin electrode into a nerve in the forearm we can listen in on the nerve and pick up signals from one of the thousands of nerve fibres that make up a nerve," explained H?kan Olausson, associate professor, who is leading the research group with Johan Wessberg.

Each individual nerve fibre is responsible for touch signals from roughly a square cm of skin. The research team used a specially-designed robot, which brushed over the exact area of skin for which a particular nerve fibre is responsible.

The subjects were also asked to rate how pleasant or unpleasant they found the brushing, said a Sahlgrenska release. "As the nerve signals that were sent in the CT nerves became more frequent, the subjects reported the experience as being increasingly pleasant. Of the skin nerves that we studied, it was only the CT nerves that had this strong link between the frequency of the signals and how pleasant it felt," said Wessberg of Sahlgrenska.

The results are slated for publication in Nature Neuroscience.

First Published: Apr 15, 2009 21:14 IST