Somatosensory & Affective Neuroscience Research Group- Liverpool John Moores University

The skin senses are a truly multisensory modality, with specific populations of cutaneous afferent nerve fibres coding for touch, temperature, pain, itch and ‘pleasure’. A research focus of the group is on the afferent c-fibres that transduce pain, itch and pleasant touch.

The group are particularly interested in a recently discovered – in humans – population of mechanosensitive c-fibres that respond to ‘gentle stroking touch’. These nerves - called c-tactile afferents (CT) - have been characterised using psychophysical, microneurography and neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, EEG & PET). The lab is one of the first in the UK to have a microneurography capability.

The research group is interested in the role of CTs in social touch and have recently been awarded a Leverhulme Trust grant – ‘Affective Touch & Human Social Behaviour’ – employing two postdocs. We will study the role of 5-HT in social touch and aim to determine

i) how trait differences in sociability affect ratings of pleasant and unpleasant touch as mediated by CT afferents

ii) explore whether exposure to affective social touch modulates social cognitions and behaviours

iii) establish whether 5-HT differentially modulates perceptual, cognitive and behavioural responses to affective touch and

iv) establish the neural basis of trait and state responses to affective touch.

A long term association with the Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre, University of Nottingham, is using ultra-high-field fMRI (7T) to further explore the central representation of somatosensory inputs to the brain. A pioneering development here is to couple intraneural microstimulation, during microneurography on single mechanosensitive afferents, with concurrent fMRI acquisition. This is enabling us to study cortical dynamics.

A recent 4-year CASE BBSRC award from GSK will focus on a fuller understanding and characterisation of the neural and behavioural mechanisms engaged during oral sensory processing. A 3-year PhD studentship from the Pain Relief Foundation (UoL) will study peripheral pain mechanisms with microneurography, characterising the function of myelinated and unmyelinated afferents in normal and neuropathic nerves.

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Professor Francis McGlone

Dr Susannah Walker

Dr David Moore

Dr. Andrew Marshall

Dr Ralph Pawling

Dr. Paula Trotter

Dr. Noreen O’Sullivan

Connor Haggarty

Adarsh Makdani

Sharon Smith

Sarah Vaughan