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Peripheral mechanoreceptors

Learning objectives

This study unit will help you to:

  1. Distinguish between the different types of mechanoreceptors.
  2. Understand the structural makeup and localization of the different types of mechanoreceptors. 

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Peripheral mechanoreceptors are specialized sensory structures of the skin which convert mechanical stimuli such as pressure, touch and vibration into electrical signals. The simplest type of mechanoreceptor is known as a nonencapsulated/free nerve ending, which are found in the stratum granulosum of the epidermis and the external root sheath of most hair follicles. They serve to respond to primarily respond to stimuli of temperature, pain and itch, but also serve as tactile receptors.

Tactile epithelial cells, commonly referred to as 'Merkel' cells, are located in the stratum basale of the epidermis and sometimes along the base of hair follicles. They are in contact with expanded, disc-shaped nerve endings (tactile menisci) to form an nonencapsulated sensory corpuscle (a.k.a. Merkel corpuscle). They function to detect light pressure/touch stimuli. They are especially abundant in areas of acute sensory perception e.g. the fingertips.

Tactile corpuscles (a.k.a. Meissner corpuscles) are encapsulated ovoid structures which consist of nerve endings surrounded by wedge-shaped Schwann cells (neurolemmocytes). They are located in the papillary region of the dermis and are particularly concentrated in areas of particular sensitivity to light touch. 

Large, onion-like mechanoreceptors known as lamellar corpuscles (a.ka. Pacinian corpuscles) lie deeper in the dermis and subcutaneous tissue and are specialised in the sensation of vibration, coarse touch and pressure. They consist of a single, elongated, central axon surrounded by concentric lamellae of collagenous fibers and flattened Schwann cells.

Bulbous corpuscles (a.k.a. Ruffini corpuscles) are located in the reticular dermis and underlying subcutaneous tissue. They have an elongated spindle shape comprising a single, highly arborised nerve ending which is surround by a thin capsule enclosing a small fluid filled space containing collagen fibers. They function to detect types of prolonged mechanical stress i.e. stretch and torque.

Check out the video below to learn more about each type of peripheral mechanoreceptor!

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Browse atlas

Take some time to review the structures identified earlier in this atlas gallery.

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