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The man who lost his sense of touch - Antonio Cataldo

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We don’t often think of touch as being a vital part of movement, but touch is one part of a network that oversees all the sensations arising from the surface and interior of our bodies. Touch, pain, temperature, and our spatial awareness are regulated by this system. So, how exactly do our brains process these sensations? And what happens when something goes wrong? Antonio Cataldo investigates.

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When asked which of our senses is the most valuable, most people answer that sight and hearing are more important than touch. However, while blind and deaf people often lead independent lives, for people suffering from “deafferentation”– an extremely rare neurological condition inducing loss of somatosensory sensations – even the simplest daily activities become nearly impossible. This is because the somatosensory system carries out many more unexpected functions than one would think. 

Mechanoreception detects any tactile stimulus impinging on the skin, but also allows us to feel the texture of the objects we explore with our hands. 

Thermoception provides information about the temperature of the environment and objects surrounding us, but also contribute to our homeostasis, by giving us a continuous feedback on our own body temperature. 

Nociception helps us protecting our own body by detecting any potentially dangerous stimulus and by generating a strong signal that helps us to avoid them: pain. 

Finally, proprioception informs the brain about the position and movement of different body parts, allowing us to feel the location of our hands or feet even in absence of vision.

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