Here, we investigate the neural mechanisms of detecting lumps embedded in artificial compliant tissues. We performed a combined psychophysical study of humans performing a passive lump detection task with a neurophysiological study in non-human primates (Macaca mulatta) where we recorded the responses of peripheral mechanoreceptive afferents to lumps embedded at various depths in intermediates (rubbers) of varying compliance. The psychophysical results reveal that human lump detection is greatly degraded by both lump depth and decreased compliance of the intermediate. The neurophysiology results reveal that only the slowly adapting type 1 (SA1) afferents provide a clear spatial representation of lumps at all depths and that the representation is affected by lump size, depth, and compliance of the intermediate. The rapidly adapting afferents are considerably less sensitive to the lump. We defined eight neural response measures that we hypothesized could explain the psychophysical behavior, including peak firing rate, spatial spread of neural activity, and additional parameters derived from these measures. We find that peak firing rate encodes the depth of the lump, and the neural spatial spread of the SA1 response encodes for lump size but not lump shape. We also find that the perception of lump size may be affected by the compliance of the intermediate. The results show that lump detection is based on a spatial population code of the SA1 afferents, which is distorted by the depth of the lump and compliance of the tissue.
ASJC Scopus subject areas