Poppy Sebag-Montefiore lived in China for five years between 1999 and 2007. She worked in the BBC’s Beijing Bureau as a news producer and a culture and arts reporter.
In this article published in the most recent issue of Granta (#146 – The Politics of Feeling), Poppy reflects on touch, culture and society – featuring insight and conversations with Prof. Francis McGlone, and her visit to the SomAffect lab.
… Francis McGlone’s work centres around nerve receptors in our skin called C-tactile afferents. They’ve only been recently discovered in humans. They lie within our hairy skin, and are particularly concentrated in our back, trunk, scalp, face and forearms. They respond to slow and light stroking. …
Just published, and already making headlines, is our new open-access paper in Current Biology.
SomAffect’s Francis McGlone and Susannah Walker (LJMU) have been working closely in collaboration with Rebecca Slater’s lab (University of Oxford) on this study which shows that stroking touch reduces infant neural (EEG) responses to pinpricks & clinical heel lance.
Professor McGlone said of the study: “This is the result of 4 years collaboration between the authors, which provides further evidence of the importance of C-Tactile afferents in early life, and a new take on the much revered Gate Control theory.“
Read the Article in Current Biology
A subclass of C fibre sensory neurons found in hairy skin are activated by gentle touch  and respond optimally to stroking at ∼1–10 cm/s, serving a protective function by promoting affiliative behaviours. In adult humans, stimulation of these C-tactile (CT) afferents is pleasant, and can reduce pain perception . Touch-based techniques, such as infant massage and kangaroo care, are designed to comfort infants during procedures, and a modest reduction in pain-related behavioural and physiological responses has been observed in some studies . Here, we investigated whether touch can reduce noxious-evoked brain activity. We demonstrate that stroking (at 3 cm/s) prior to an experimental noxious stimulus or clinical heel lance can attenuate noxious-evoked brain activity in infants. CT fibres may represent a biological target for non-pharmacological interventions that modulate pain in early life.
Deniz Gursul, Sezgi Goksan, Caroline Hartley, Gabriela Schmidt Mellado, Fiona Moultrie, Amy Hoskin, Eleri Adams, Gareth Hathway, Susannah Walker, Francis McGlone, Rebeccah Slater, Stroking modulates noxious-evoked brain activity in human infants, Current Biology, Volume 28, Issue 24, 2018.
Professor Francis McGlone, & SomAffect collaborator Professor Annett Schirmer have published a research report in Cortex – titled: A touching Sight: EEG/ERP correlates for the vicarious processing of affectionate touch.
The article is available online now, and SomAffect is able to grant open access to the full article & PDF until 29th December 2018 to anyone visiting through this link: Read The Article.
We encourage you to share this page & the article widely.
SomAffect Professor Francis McGlone was invited to give a keynote speech at the PlayTherapy UK 2018 Conference – titled “The Neurological Basis of Affective Touch“.
PTUK have made both the keynote, and an interview available online, below.
Professor McGlone is due to open the ISATCA symposium on Thursday 1st February 2018 with a talk titled “How Do You Feel?”
The study of affective touch perception and its influence on social interactions and emotional processing as well as behavioural development has attracted the attention of multiple research groups around the globe, centering on a group of specialized unmyelinated nerve fibers – the so-called C-tactile afferents. With a particular importance of interpersonal touch in the upbringing of children, a more detailed field of research on the influences of affective touch perception on the development of the social brain in children is to be explored.
ISATCA 2018 – Programme (pdf)
The Autumn 2017 edition of the BNA Bulletin (free to all British Neuroscience Association Members!) which has just landed on the doormats, in-trays and inboxes of over 2000 people features a 2 page article on C-Tactile fibres, touch, and the work of SomAffect / LJMU Professor Francis McGlone.
… “The fast nerves have dominated our understanding of touch” … “But that’s the boring stuff. The rest of the body, that’s where the C-tactile fibres are.” …
A touching story
C-tactile fibres in hairy skin, specialised for responding to gentle stroking, could be playing a key role in development of the social brain.
… “It doesn’t matter what story you tell, the nerve fibres have worked it out.” …
Download the Article (PDF): A Touching Story and visit the British Neuroscience Association to sign up, and read the whole bulletin (plus back issues from 2004).
© The British Neuroscience Association Ltd
SomAffect’s research with collaborators into gentle touch in premature infants has been featured in an article by the NewScientist by Linda Geddes.
While many premature babies experience pain, McGlone thinks that it is exposure to gentle touch that really matters. There’s mounting evidence that a set of nerves called c-tactile fibres are activated by soft caresses, and might provide a scaffold for the developing social brain. “These preterm infants have a highly developed c-tactile system, and I believe that the way the brain wires up its sense of self is critically dependent on this system feeding information in,” McGlone says.
Read more at NewScientist.com
LJMU Neuroscience Professor Francis McGlone discusses the importance & role of “touch” in schools on BBC One Breakfast, a national morning news programme. [19th February 2017]
CT afferents are receptors in mammalian hairy skin that fire action potentials when the skin is touched lightly which makes them particularly important in affective touch. Traditionally neuroscientific research has focused on more discriminative and haptic properties of touch that are mediated by large myelinated afferents and the coding properties and functional organization of unmyelinated CT afferents have been studied much less. The proposed volume will draw together existing knowledge in this nascent field. Separate sections will address (1) how we can measure affective touch, (2) CT structure and physiology, (3) CT processing, (4) the contribution of CTs to sexual behavior, (5) clinical relevance, (6) commercial relevance, and (7) future research considerations. (more…)
LJMU’s press office has announced the news of our MRC grant award:
A three-year Medical Research Council (MRC) funded study (£~700K) is being led by Dr Sue Francis (PI) at Nottingham University’s Sir Peter Mansfield Brain Imaging Centre and Professor Francis McGlone (Co-I) from the School of Natural Sciences & Psychology at LJMU. (more…)