The neural basis of perceived intensity in natural and artificial touch

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Science Translational Medicine  26 Oct 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 362, pp. 362ra142
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf5187

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Perceived intensity: A touchy subject for neuroprostheses

Without tactile sensory input, amputees discern a firm handshake from a bone-crushing grip by visual cues and learned behavior. Next-generation prostheses aim to lend a more natural feel to artificial touch by transmitting nuanced sensory feedback. Graczyk et al. looked at direct stimulation of the radial, ulnar, and median nerves via implanted electrodes in two amputees to understand how levels of intensity are perceived and how tactile sensory feedback is transmitted. By modulating the number of nerve fibers stimulated and the frequency of stimulation, sensory information could be transmitted such that the amputees could distinguish distinct levels of tactile intensity, that is, the difference between a 7 and a 10 on a scale of intensity.