I always supposed the neurons / receptors which transmitted touch and pain were the same, since they react to stimulus which are the same but with different intensity, and they just sent a stronger signal in the case of something that has to be interpreted as pain. Though recently I've read some articles that imply they aren't, even so they don't say it directly. Reading more information I found this,

A nociceptor ("pain receptor") is a sensory neuron that responds to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli by sending “possible threat” signals.

Types and functions

Mechanical nociceptors respond to excess pressure or mechanical deformation.



Are sensory receptors neurons?

Receptor cells are specialized neurons

Are sensory receptors neurons?

And finally,

Sensory receptors are primarily classified as chemoreceptors, thermoreceptors, mechanoreceptors, or photoreceptors.

Mechanoreceptors detect mechanical forces.

Sensory receptors

This doesnt give me a definitive answer, but it tells me both "sensory mechanoreceptors" and "mechanical nocireceptors" are neurons which responds to pressure/ mechanical forces. Are they supposed to be the same types of neurons named differently by different authors, or are they different types of neurons?


2 Answers 2


Short answer
Nociceptors are different from mechanoreceptors.

Mechanoreceptors in the skin have specialized dendritic regions that facilitate their specific role in sensing different types of mechanical force, e.g., pressure receptors (Merkel’s disks) versus vibration receptors (Pacinian corpuscles and Meissner's corpuscles). See Fig. 1 for schematic representations of these types of receptors (Iheanacho et al). By contrast, pain receptors (or nociceptors) do not have specialized dendritic regions and consist of free nerve endings that respond to harmful mechanical forces (Purves et al., 2001).

skin receptors
Fig. 1. Skin receptors. source: Teach Me Phsyiology

- Iheanacho et al., Mechanoreceptors. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing (2020)
- Purves et al., eds. In: Neuroscience 2nd ed. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Nociceptors


I don't know if this directly answers your questions, but I think some confusion may stem from an underlying misconception of receptor vs receptor cell.

In most contexts (though not this one), 'receptors' do not refer to cells. Receptors are proteins on the cell membrane that transduct some signal/stimulus to the cell. Sometimes a "normal" peripheral neuron will have end processes that contain receptors that pass the signal directly to the neuron. Other times, a special 'receptor cell' is present. These cells are labeled as mechanoreceptors or nociceptors. The difference here is that a "standard" neuron is responsible for signal gating and propagation, whereas a receptor (cell) is primarily responsible for converting an external stimulus into a chemo or electrical signal recognized by "normal" neurons (or other cells).

Edit: As noted by AliceD's answer, different receptors have different proteins and thus have different mechanisms. To add, "nociceptor" and "mechanoreceptor" are categories. There are many different receptors that are nociceptors and many different receptors that are mechanoreceptors. Furthermore, nociceptor is a category of 'function' - it describes that the receptor responds to a pain/damage stimulus. A mechanoreceptor is a category of 'mechanism' - it describes how the receptor works. These categories are not mutually exclusive, and there are indeed nociceptors that are ALSO mechanoreceptors. (E.g. "Joint nociceptors are classified as high threshold mechanoreceptors" (source)) But not all nociceptors are mechanoreceptors and not all mechanoreceptors are nociceptors.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Added. As I understand it, cells that are both nociceptors and mechanoreceptors seem to be classified as one or the other depending on the use/field of research. In cases investigating the mechanisms of nociceptors, it seems they may be distinguishing the two to separate "other" mechanoreceptor from mechanical nociceptors as the mechanisms are indeed different. $\endgroup$
    – SmallFish
    Jan 15, 2021 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ "high-threshold mechanoreceptors respond to stimulation of higher intensity, and are a type of nociceptor." From the ever-so-very credible source of lumenlearning. $\endgroup$
    – SmallFish
    Jan 15, 2021 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ In any case, after revisiting op's question, I think your answer is more what op is looking for: the two are certainly not the same thing. We're sort of arguing semantics here, as some nociceptors are technically mechanoreceptors by definition, but few people would ever refer to them as both. $\endgroup$
    – SmallFish
    Jan 15, 2021 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ so, there are different types of mechanoreceptors, some will detect touch, others will detect harm, those last ones are also called nociceptors? Or did I get it wrong? $\endgroup$
    – Pablo
    Jan 15, 2021 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, that is correct. Normally, people would not refer to them as such though. They would be one or the other. If it detects harm, regardless of mechanism, it will be recognized/addressed as a nociceptor only. $\endgroup$
    – SmallFish
    Jan 15, 2021 at 18:18

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