Scientific Reports (May 2021)

Human low-threshold mechanoafferent responses to pure changes in friction controlled using an ultrasonic haptic device

  • Mariama Dione,
  • Roger Holmes Watkins,
  • Eric Vezzoli,
  • Betty Lemaire-Semail,
  • Johan Wessberg

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 1
pp. 1 – 12


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Abstract The forces that are developed when manipulating objects generate sensory cues that inform the central nervous system about the qualities of the object’s surface and the status of the hand/object interaction. Afferent responses to frictional transients or slips have been studied in the context of lifting/holding tasks. Here, we used microneurography and an innovative tactile stimulator, the Stimtac, to modulate both the friction level of a surface, without changing the surface or adding a lubricant, and, to generate the frictional transients in a pure and net fashion. In three protocols, we manipulated: the frictional transients, the friction levels, the rise times, the alternation of phases of decrease or increase in friction to emulate grating-like stimuli. Afferent responses were recorded in 2 FAIs, 1 FAII, 2 SAIs and 3 SAIIs from the median nerve of human participants. Independently of the unit type, we observed that: single spikes were generated time-locked to the frictional transients, and that reducing the friction level reduced the number of spikes during the stable phase of the stimulation. Our results suggest that those frictional cues are encoded in all the unit types and emphasize the possibility to use the Stimtac device to control mechanoreceptor firing with high temporal precision.