Also known as tactile corpuscles, Meissner’s corpuscles are a type of mechanoreceptor and a type of nerve ending responsible for the sensitivity of light touch. Meissner’s corpuscles are found in hairless skin (glabrous skin) and within the dermal papillae. Meissner’s corpuscles are the most common type of mechanoreceptor in the hand, providing about 40 percent of sensory information. They are rapidly adaptive receptors, meaning the cells respond maximally but briefly to a stimulus and then if the stimulus is maintained, the response will decrease. Meissner’s corpuscles are most commonly found in thick, hairless skin, predominantly on the finger pads and the lips. The number of corpuscles on the fingertips, however, drops during aging. Studies have found that by the age of 50 years old the number of Meissner’s corpuscles are generally four times lower than the number observed at the age of 12 years old.
Meissner’s corpuscles are enclosed unmyelinated nerve endings consisting of flat (laminar), supportive cells in a horizontal arrangement and surrounded by a connective tissue capsule. The Meissner’s corpuscles contain primary afferent terminal fibers that are situated between the flattened cells.
Meissner’s corpuscles are very sensitive to shape and textural changes in touch. They help provide the neural basis for reading braille by the blind. Particularly sensitive to touch and vibrations at low frequencies (30—50 hertz), they are still limited in their detection as they can only sense that something is touching the skin. When pressure is applied to the skin, the laminar cells slide past one another and distort the membranes of the axon terminals in the cells. A deformation in the corpuscle will cause an action potential (firing of a neuron), causing you to sense the change but to rapidly adapt and stop feeling things like the clothes you are wearing. Due to the discharge of a low-frequency vibration, the primary afferent neuron can detect and signal very small movements across the skin.
See also: Braille; Chemoreception; Discriminative Touch; Mechanoreceptors; Merkel Cell; Pacinian Corpuscles; Somatosensory System
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