Giggling Rats Reveal Brain Region That Responds To Ticklishness

Posted: Nov 11 2016, 3:55pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 11 2016, 3:57pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Giggling Rats Reveal Brain Region that Responds to Ticklishness
Credit: Shimpei Ishiyama and Michael Brecht / Humboldt University of Berlin/Science
 

By studying tickling, giggling rats, researchers gain insight into how our own brain reacts to ticklishness

Tickling may have the distinction of being one of the least understood physical sensations. Why do we laugh in response to tickling? Why some parts of our body are more ticklish than others? What is the brain “tickle center” that urges us to respond in a specific way every time we are being tickled? These and many other questions were remained unanswered until now. 

By studying how rats reacts to tickling, researchers have gained insight into the how a brain process in response to the sensation and also pinpointed for the first time the area of brain where ticklishness resides. 

When researchers tickled the rats with their hands, they found that rats seemingly enjoyed it. Rats  not only giggled but also jumped for joy and even chased researchers’ hand for another tickle.

“It’s truly innovative and groundbreaking,” said Jeffrey Burgdorf, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University. “It takes the study of emotion to a new level.”

To observe tickling effects on rats, researchers gently caressed rats on different parts of the body and also set up a device capable of capturing a variety of ultrasonic vocalizations. Each tickling routine lasted for about 10 seconds which was followed by a 15 second break. 

Researchers found that tickling prompted a specific activity in somatosensory cortex, a region of the brain typically associated with touch. 

“We found that tickling can evoke intense neuronal activity in the somtesensory cortex.” co-reseacher Shimpei Ishiyama said.

Researchers also observed that rats were most ticklish on the belly and underneath their feet. But their responses were not the same when researchers put them under bright light or on a raised platform. Making rats anxious reduced their ticklishness. As a result, they did not jump or giggle when ticked, suggesting that tickling depends on the mood. 

These findings may have implications on understanding the mechanism of ticklishness on humans, which were otherwise difficult to observe.  

Neuroscientist Jaak Panskepp, who was not involved in the new study, tells Popular Science. “This is the only deep scientific approach we currently have to understanding the evolutionary sources of our own emotions, which are very important for deepening psychiatric understanding and treatment of affective disorders.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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