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We read in Nature's January's issue that a team of biologists at Caltech found and identified individual neurons that were activated by massage-like stroking of the skin, in an experiment developed with mices.
One of the investigators points out that a lot is known about the neurons that detect things that make us hurt or feel pain, anger or fear. However, not much is known about how neurons work regarding good feelings like good taste for instance, as it is more difficult to show positive influence traces in animal models. The team had to develope a new model to ellaborate their research, indeed.
Through a painstaking process of applying stimuli to one tiny area of the animal's body at a time, they were able to confirm that certain neurons lit up only when stroked. But scientists had to demonstrate that this massages strokness feeling was felt as good by the mouse. For that they made mices choose between different pathways. Depending of what drug mices had taken -the one which activates massage stroke-neurons, or a placebo- they took different ways. The experiment showed that those who had received the drug that made them "feel stroked", like a massage for persons, chose to take the way that took them to the place where they received that same drug again, to feel that sensation again. This way, scientists could deduce that mices experienced that massage feeling in a "good way".
You may read the full report at Medical Express Massage Neurons.