Could your own skin "know" what it's touching before your brain does? That's exactly what researchers at Umeå University in Sweden have been studying, and the results are interesting to say the least. What they've discovered is that neurons which branch through our skin don't just send signals to the brain they've made contact with an object, but it seems they actually process complex information about the object before surging through the spine. Only after the message has been received in the cerebral cortex region of the brain, does it become processed further.
Because of the detailed network which the neurons are a part of, they can detect a variety of information such as the intensity of contact and even the texture or shape of the object. "Somewhat simplified, it means that our touch experiences are already processed by neurons in the skin before they reach the brain for further processing," says Andrew Pruszynski, a neuroscientist who is working on the study. Now that humans have a better understanding of our own skin, studies dealing with the tactile system could help researchers develop future technologies to assist those with amputees or growth defects.
Since neurons do not undergo cell division, damage to neural networks can often mean irreversible damage to the the system and prevent electrical signals from reaching the brain properly. Understanding how our bodies analyze and interpret information could be help with research involving a range of neurological conditions and possibly pave the way for bionic ligaments being integrated into living tissue.