The aim of this study was to examine the slowly adapting type I (SAI) and rapidly adapting (RA) primary afferent representation of raised and depressed surface features. Isolated, raised, and depressed squares and small raised squares with a circular surround were scanned across the receptive fields of SAI and RA mechanoreceptive afferents innervating the distal fingerpads of the rhesus monkey. Pattern height ranged from -620 to +620 μm and width ranged from 0.2 to 7.0 min. The surround radii ranged from 3.0 to 7.0 mm. Previous combined psychophysical and neurophysiological studies have provided evidence that SAI afferent responses are responsible for the perception of spatial form and texture and that RA afferents are responsible for the detection of stimuli that produce minute skin motion (flutter, slip, microgeometric surface features). Our results strengthen these hypotheses. Response properties shared by beth SAI and RA afferent types were that both responded only to the edges of the larger raised and depressed patterns, both responded to falling edges half as vigorously as to rising edges, both responded to rising and falling edges with impulse rates that were proportional to the sine of the angle between the edge and the scanning direction, and both bad suppressed responses to a small raised surface feature when a raised surround was closer than 6 mm. Response differences consistent with the hypothesis that SAI afferents are specialized for the representation of form were that SAI responses were confined to areas around the features that evoked them in areas that were 40-50% smaller than the comparable RA response areas, SAI responses were more than four times more sensitive to stimulus height than were RA afferents over the range from 280 to 620 μm, and SAI (but not RA) afferents responded 20-50% more vigorously to comers than to edges. Response differences consistent with the hypothesis that RA afferents are specialized for the detection of minute surfaces features were that only RA afferents responded to very small surface depressions, depressed squares 0.8 mm wide, that were detectable by palpation. Mechanisms underlying the many differences in SAI and RA response properties are discussed.
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