The Abraira lab will explore the neural circuits involved in processing and responding to touch. Although touch is an important part of our everyday lives and shapes how we move through the world and interact with others, it is the least studied of all the senses. As a postdoctoral fellow, I discovered that most of the neurons in the skin that detect touch relay information to cells in the spinal cord, rather than communicating directly with the brain. Now, using cutting-edge methods in molecular genetics coupled with advanced techniques for manipulating and monitoring the activity of individual neurons in awake mice, our group will stimulate or silence specific spinal circuits to determine how they encode tactile sensations and use this information to guide the animal’s behavior and its ability to coordinate movement. We will also explore, for the first time, how social touch is modulated by spinal circuits that differ from those that process the touch that allows us to grasp and distinguish objects. Our findings could lead to new treatments for disorders that impair social interactions, such as autism, or to improved therapies for spinal cord injury.