Dynamic touch reduces physiological arousal in preterm infants: A role for c-tactile afferents?

1RAISE Lab, Clinical-Based Human Research Department, Foundation COME Collaboration, Pescara, Italy; Division of Neonatology, “V. Buzzi” Children’s Hospital, ASST-FBF-Sacco, Milan, Italy; Research Department, SOMA, Istituto Osteopatia Milano, Milan, Italy.
2RAISE Lab, Clinical-Based Human Research Department, Foundation COME Collaboration, Pescara, Italy. Electronic address: fcerritelli@comecollaboration.org.
3Gulf National Centre, Foundation COME Collaboration, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; MYO Osteopathy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; University College of Osteopathy, London, UK; Instituto Piaget, Lisbon, Portugal.
4Division of Neonatology, “V. Buzzi” Children’s Hospital, ASST-FBF-Sacco, Milan, Italy.
5RAISE Lab, Clinical-Based Human Research Department, Foundation COME Collaboration, Pescara, Italy; Research Department, SOMA, Istituto Osteopatia Milano, Milan, Italy.
6Department of Psychology and Milan Center for Neuroscience (NeuroMI), University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy.
7Research Centre for Brain & Behaviour, School of Natural Sciences & Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, UK; Institute of Psychology, Health & Society, University of Liverpool, UK.
8Research Centre for Brain & Behaviour, School of Natural Sciences & Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, UK.

Abstract

Preterm birth is a significant risk factor for a range of long-term health problems and developmental disabilities. Though touch plays a central role in many perinatal care strategies, the neurobiological basis of these approaches is seldom considered. C-Tactile afferents (CTs) are a class of unmyelinated nerve fibre activated by low force, dynamic touch. Consistent with an interoceptive function, touch specifically targeted to activate CTs activates posterior insular cortex and has been reported to reduce autonomic arousal. The present study compared the effect of 5 min of CT optimal velocity stroking touch to 5 min of static touch on the heart-rate and oxygen saturation levels of preterm infants between 28- & 37-weeks gestational age. CT touch produced a significant decrease in infants’ heart-rates and increase in their blood oxygenation levels, which sustained throughout a 5-min post-touch period. In contrast, there was no significant change in heart-rate or blood oxygenation levels of infants receiving static touch. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that CTs signal the affective quality of nurturing touch, providing a neurobiological substrate for the apparent beneficial effects of neonatal tactile interventions and offering insight for their optimisation.

KEYWORDS:

Affective; C-tactile; Heart-rate; Infant; Preterm; Touch

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