Neurons in human skin can perform advanced calculations, scientists discover. Agustín Ruiz/Creative Commons

Human skin can perform advanced calculations that scientists previously thought only the brain could do, researchers have said.

According to scientists from Umeå University in Sweden, neurons in human skin can process geometric data about the object being touched.

Published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers noted that one of the fundamental characteristics of neurons in the skin to record touch is that they branch out so each neuron reports touch from countless highly-sensitive zones on the skin.

The study says these neurons – known as first-order tactile neurons – process the geometric data about the object touching the skin, as well as sending signals to the brain about it.

Andrew Pruszynski, one of the study authors, explained: "Perhaps the most surprising result of our study is that these peripheral neurons, which are engaged when a fingertip examines an object, perform the same type of calculations done by neurons in the cerebral cortex.

"Somewhat simplified, it means that our touch experiences are already processed by neurons in the skin before they reach the brain for further processing."

Writing in the study, the authors said: "We submit that peripheral neurons in the touch-processing pathway, as with peripheral neurons in the visual-processing pathway, perform feature extraction computations that are typically attributed to neurons in the cerebral cortex."