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Mechanism of sensation

Mechanoreceptors are primary neurons that respond to mechanical stimuli by firing action potentials. Peripheral transduction is believed that occurs in the end-organs.

The afferent neurons transmit the message through a synapse in the dorsal column nuclei, where another neuron sends the signal to the thalamus, where another neuron sends the signal to the somatosensory cortex in sensory transduction.


More recent work has expanded the role of the mechanoreceptors for feedback in fine motor control. Single action potentials from RAI and PC afferents are directly linked to activation of related hand muscles,[1] whereas SAI activation will not trigger muscle activity.


The human work stemmed from Vallbo and Johansson’s percutaneous recordings from human volunteers in the late 1970s. Work in rhesus monkeys has found virtually identical mechanoreceptors with the exception of Ruffini corpuscles which are not found in the monkey.


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There are two ways to categorize mechanoreceptors; by what type of sensation they perceive and also by the rate of adaption.

By sensation

Cutaneous mechanoreceptors provide the senses of touch, pressure, vibration, proprioception and others.

• The SAI type mechanoreceptor, with the Merkel cell end-organ, underlies the perception of form and roughness on the skin. Definition: Mechanoreceptors [2].

• The RAI type mechanoreceptor underlies the perception of flutter,[3] and slip on the skin.[4]

• Pacinian receptors underlie the perception of high frequency vibration.[5] SAII mechanoreceptors respond to skin stretch, but have not been closely linked to either proprioceptive or mechanoreceptive roles in perception.[6]

By rate of adaption

Mechanoreceptors can additionally be separated into categories based on their rates of adaptivity. When a mechanoreceptor receives a stimulus it begins to fire impulses or action potentials at an elevated frequency (the stronger the stimulus the higher the frequency). The cell, however, will soon “adapt” to a constant or static stimulus and the pulses will subside to a normal rate. Receptors that adapt quickly (i.e. quickly come back to a normal pulse rate) are referred to as ‘’phasic’’. Those receptors that are slow to return to their firing that is normal rate called ‘’tonic’’. Phasic mechanoreceptors are useful in sensing things that are such texture, vibrations, etc; whereas tonic receptors are useful for temperature and proprioception among others.

• Slowly adapting type I mechanoreceptors have multiple Merkel corpuscle end-organs.

• Slowly adapting type II mechanoreceptors have single Ruffini corpuscle end-organs.

• Rapidly adapting type I mechanoreceptors have multiple Meissner corpuscle end-organs.

• Rapidly adapting type II mechanoreceptors (usually called Pacinian) have single Pacinian corpuscle end-organs.

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