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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad

Response properties of primary afferents supplying Eimer's organ
Paul D. Marasco, Kenneth C. Catania


The mole's nose is covered with mechanosensory structures called Eimer's organs. Each organ contains Merkel cell-neurite complexes, Paciniform corpuscles and intraepidermal free nerve endings. The function of Eimer's organ has been the subject of speculation since the 1800s, but responses from the afferents have never been investigated. Our goal was to explore the function of Eimer's organ by recording primary afferent responses to a range of mechanosensory stimuli. Unit activity from the trigeminal ganglion was recorded from coast (Scapanus orarius) and star-nosed (Condylura cristata) moles, while stimulating the nose with a Chubbuck mechanosensory stimulator, a piezo-electric sweeping stimulator, and hand-held probes. Stimuli included static indentations, sinusoidal displacements, different indentation velocities, displacement amplitudes, and directional stimuli across the skin. Receptive fields were small, sometimes restricted to single Eimer's organs. Responses were consistent with a slowly adapting Merkel cell-neurite complex-like receptor class and a dynamically sensitive Pacinian-like rapidly adapting class. A second rapidly adapting class was hypothesized to represent activity of prominent free nerve endings within a central cell column. Some receptors were most sensitive to stimuli applied in particular directions across the skin. Most receptors relayed mechanosensory input with high temporal fidelity. In addition some receptors were tuned to respond best when stimulated at a velocity matching the velocity of the nose during foraging. These results support the hypothesis that Eimer's organ functions to detect small surface features and textures by encoding and integrating deflection information for multiple Eimer's organs during brief touches.

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