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INTRODUCTION TO SENSORY PHYSIOLOGY Specialized sensory organs and free nerve endings in the skin provide four modalities

of cutaneous sensation. The modality and location of each sensation is determined by the specific sensory pathways and frequency patterns in the brain; the threshold and intensity of the sensation depend partially on the density of the receptors. In this exercise we will: 1) Describe the distribution of cutaneous receptors; 2) Determine the two-point threshold in different regions of the skin: 3) Define and demonstrate sensory adaptation; and 4) Determine the ability to localize a cutaneous sensation in different regions. Four independent modalities of cutaneous sensation have traditionally been recognized-warmth. cold. touch, and pain. (pressure is excluded because it is mediated by receptors deep in the dermis. and the sensations of itch and tickle are usually exduded because of the mysterious origin.) Mapping of these sensations on the surface of the skin has revealed that the receptors are not generalized throughout the skin but are clustered at different points, (i.e.. have a punctuate distribution. Since the punctuate distribution is different for each of the four sensory modalities, earlier physiologists believed that each sensation was mediated by a different sensory receptor, and this view was supported by the histological identification of different cutaneous receptors. Excision of areas of the skin from different sensory maps, however, failed to reveal a different distribution of receptors, and more recent experiments have suggested that the four sensations may arise from an analysis of complex patterns of sensory (afferent) impulses in the brain. Experimental procedure

1. Mapping the Density of Temperature and Touch-Sensitive Spots of the Skin


Divide into pairs. Each of you take turns being the toucher and the touchee. A. Procedure 1. With the small rubber stamp provided, mark a square 2 cm2 on the ventral surface of the subject's forearm, and the thick pad of the palm. Draw a thin line from each corner to its opposite, dividing the square in quarters. 2. With the subject's eyes dosed, gently touch an ice-cold metal rod to different points in the square. Mark the points of cold sensation with a blue dot. 3. Repeat with the heated rod. marking with a different color. 4. Gently touch a thin bristle to different areas, marking the points of sensation.

5. What to record and report: please record overall density of sensation for each stimulus in each region of stimulation. Record the data for everyone in the class (a system to place your data will be on the chalk board). Analyze your data using Excel and graph your results (mean for each sensation in each area). B. Question 1. In which body region that you tested is the density of sensitive spots the greatest ? Suggest an adaptive explanation. 2. How does the density of sensations differ? Suggest an explanation. 2. Two-Point Discrimination The density of touch receptors is measured by the two-point threshold test. The two points of a pair of adjustable calipers are simultaneously placed on the subject's skin with equal pressure, and the subject is asked if one or separate contacts are felt. If two, the points of the divider are brought closer together, and the test is repeated until only one point of contact is felt. The minimum distance at which two points of contact can be felt is the two-point threshold. A. Procedure 1. Starting with the calipers wide apart and the subject's eyes closed, determine the two-point threshold on the back of the hand. (Randomly alternate the two-point touch with one-point contacts, so that the subject will not try to second guess the examiner.) 2. Repeat this procedure with the palm of the hand, fingertip and the back of the neck. 3. Write the results in a table in your laboratory report. 4. What to record and report: Please record the two-point threshold for yourself and your partner and place it on the board as for the last test. Record the data for everyone in the class. Analyze your data using Excel and graph your results comparing the back of the hand with the palm. B. Questions 1. Does two-point discrimination vary with region? How? Suggest an adaptive reason why. 2. What is the relation between two-point discrimination and density of sensitive spots ? 3. Localization The ability to localize a cutaneous sensation means that the subject

can indicate accurately the site of stimulation on the skin. A. Procedure 1. With the subject blindfolded, select and mark one spot for stimulation in each of three different regions, e.g. finger tip, inner arm near wrist, and inner arm near elbow. 2. The experimenter should briefly and lightly touch the subject with a ball-point pen or felt pen at one of these spots. 3. The subject should then try to place a second pen tip of a different color on the stimulated spot. In order to reduce errors from motor performance, the subject should use his writing hand to do the locating and is permitted to "search" (without touching) until satisfied with the localization. 4. Continue testing by stimulating the same spot at least 5 times. (You may want to randomize the presentations by stimulating the different spots in rotation.) 5. What to record and report: For each region of the hand or arm, please record the mean distance from the 5 recordings between the actual stimulation spot and the located spot from the test subject. Record this mean on the board for each individual as for the last test. Record the data for everyone in the class. Analyze your data using Excel and graph your results comparing each of the three areas. B. Questions 1. Does the error of localization vary with the region ? How ? Suggest an explanation. 2. Is the ability to localize in a region related to the density of sensitive spots in that region ? Why/Why not ? 3. Does learning or experience modify the accuracy of localization ? 4. Adaptation of Receptors: Many of our sense receptors respond strongly to acute changes in our environment and then cease responding when these stimuli become constant. This phenomenon is known as sensory adaptation. Our sense of smell, for example quickly adapts to the odors of the laboratory, and our touch receptors soon cease to inform us of our clothing until these stimuli change. When one hand is placed in warm water and another in cold water, the strength of stimulation gradually diminishes until both types of temperature receptors have adapted to their new environment. If the two hands are then placed in water at an intermediate temperature, the hands feel different. The baseline of the receptors has obviously changed. The sensations of.temperature are there for not absolute but relative to the baseline previously established by

sensory adaptation. A. Procedure 1. Place your right hand in warm water (about 40 degrees) and the left in cold water, and leave them in the water for about 3 minutes. 2. Now place both hand in lukewarm water (about 22-25 degrees) and record your sensations. 3. What to record and report: Which hand feels warmer and which colder in the lukewarm water? Record the data (which hand is warmer) on the board and then report for the class the % of left hands that felt warmer. B. Questions 1. Does your thermal sensory system show adaptation ? Describe this in terms of the stimulus to the receptors. 2. Do your thermal sensations indicate the absolute temperature of an object ? Why/Why not ? Your lab report on this laboratory exercise will be generated from the above data, graphs and answers to the questions. Prepare thorough and lucid answers. Extra attention on the evaluation will be given to your original thought processes. Fire up those neurons!