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Sensory Neurons

Last update: September 16, 2022
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By BrainMatters

There are several types of sensory neurons all located under the skin. These neurons are also called receptors. These are sensory neurons that transmit information about the body and environment to the brain.

The neurons that are sensitive to touch and pressure are called mechanoreceptors. The mechanoreceptors can also be subdivided again:

  • Merkel receptors respond to fine details, such as Braille characters
  • Ruffini receptors respond to deep and sustained pressure on the skin, for example when you pick up a coffee cup
  • Meissner receptors respond to slow vibrations, for example when the coffee cup slips from your finger
  • Pacinian receptors respond to fast vibrations, for example when a mosquito lands on your arm or when you bump your pen against your table.

There are also sensory neurons that register temperature called thermoreceptors. There are different receptors for heat and for cold.

Neurons that respond to painful stimuli are called nociceptors. Some of these cells are sheathed in myelin, while others are not. The nociceptors that are sheathed conduct information much faster than those that are not. This is useful, for example, when you burn yourself on a hot stove. The sheathed nociceptors cause you to withdraw your hand at lightning speed, even before you are aware of the pain. The nociceptors without myelin are active when you feel nagging pain. For example, in the burning pain that you will feel for several days after touching the stove.

Finally, there are neurons that inform the brain about the position of the muscles and limbs. These cells are localized at the junction between muscles and tendons or in the muscle belly and are also called proprioceptors. For example, when a muscle is stretched, the proprioceptors make sure the brain is aware of this. An example of a proprioceptor is a muscle spindle. It is located in the muscle belly and measures the length of the muscle. Another type of proprioceptor is the Golgi tendon body. It is located in the tendons of a muscle and measures the tension of the muscle. These neurons prevent the tension from becoming too great and damaging the muscle.

Author: Bart Aben (translated by Melanie Smekal)

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