A Better Touch: C-tactile Fibers Related Activity is Associated to Pain Reduction During Temporal Summation of Second Pain

Published:January 16, 2021DOI:


      • Temporal summation of second pain (TSSP) is linked to central sensitization.
      • Affective touch (AT) decreases TSSP, while discriminative touch does not.
      • Also, higher body awareness is linked with higher pain during discriminative touch.
      • The mechanisms underpinning AT could prove useful against chronic pain.


      C-tactile (CT) fibers, responsible for the so-called “affective” touch (AT), have drawn a fair amount of attention within the scientific community for their marked social dimension. However, while the pain-relieving potential of discriminative touch (DT) has been documented, proofs of the analgesic properties of AT are still scarce. Additionally, no study has so far tested its possible pain-relieving effects on a clinically-relevant model. Temporal summation of second pain (TSSP), otherwise referred to as “wind-up,” relies on repetitive stimulation of C-nociceptors and it is thought to reflect central sensitization, a process linked to many chronic pain conditions. In the present experimental, within participants, design we induced TSSP through trains of ascending and descending repetitive heat stimulation. Forty-two healthy participants’ pain was measured during 2 different tactile stimulations (stroking velocities AT: 10 cm/s; DT: 0.3 cm/s) or without concomitant tactile input. Since measures of pleasantness of the tactile stimulation have been found to strongly correlate with C-tactile fibers’ firing rate, these, together with participants’ body awareness, were also taken into account.
      Our results show that AT brought about a decrease of our participants’ pain as opposed to both DT and no touch, while DT did not produce any significant pain reduction. Thus, only AT successfully modulated wind-up. As expected, AT was perceived as more pleasant than DT, while a clear relationship between body awareness and pain was found only during DT.
      Targeting CT fibers could pave the way to new treatments for chronic pain conditions whose aetiology depend on abnormal C-nociceptors’ physiology.


      This study extends previous findings on the analgesic potential of affective touch, documenting a clear pain reduction during temporal summation of second pain (TSSP). Since TSSP is thought to reflect central sensitization, the psychophysiological mechanisms of affective touch could be exploited for new chronic pain treatments.


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