Editors' ChoiceBiophysics

Fingertip Search

Science Signaling  17 Mar 2009:
Vol. 2, Issue 62, pp. ec102
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.262ec102

Why do humans have epidermal ridges and why are they arranged in whorls? Previous work has established two cutaneous mechanoreceptor channels by which the perception of coarse and fine spatial features is transmitted from the finger surfaces to tactile processing centers; the slowly adapting mechanoreceptor class is primarily used for the detection of edges and skin stretches, whereas the Pacinian corpuscles pick up vibrations at a few hundred hertz. Scheibert et al. do not answer the second question but are able to offer a response to the first by using an artificial spherical cap (like a miniature swimming cap) whose surface has been patterned with ridges of similar size and frequency to what are found on human fingerpads. Rubbing this cap across patterned surfaces reveals that the presence of the ridges serves to amplify the pressure deflection by 100-fold and that this occurs optimally within the range of the Pacinian fibers.

J. Scheibert, S. Leurent, A. Prevost, G. Debrégeas, The role of fingerprints in the coding of tactile information probed with a biomimetic sensor. Science 323, 1503–1506 (2009). [Abstract] [Full Text]