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Got an Itch? Mouse Study May Help Explain Why
Date:5/23/2013

, an area of the spine where sensory signals from the body are routed to the brain in order to look for cells that receive incoming Nppb molecules. They identified the receptor as the protein Npra.

"The receptors were exactly in the right place in the dorsal horn," noted Hoon. "We went further and removed the Npra neurons from the spinal cord. We wanted to see if their removal would short-circuit the itch, and it did."

Because removing the receptor nerve cells did not affect other sensations -- such as temperature, pain and touch -- the researchers concluded there is a dedicated signal to the brain that conveys the sensation of itch. Although another neurotransmitter called GRP also plays a role in the sensation of itch, they pointed out that it becomes involved only after Nppb triggers the process.

However, since the Nppb molecule is also used by the heart, kidneys and other parts of the body, the researchers concluded that attempting to control itch through the neurotransmitter in the spine could have negative side effects.

"The larger scientific point remains," Hoon said. "Now the challenge is to find similar biocircuitry in people, evaluate what's there, and identify unique molecules that can be targeted to turn off chronic itch without causing unwanted side effects. So, this is a start, not a finish."

Research in animals often doesn't translate into success in human studies.

The study appeared online May 23 in the journal Science.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about itching.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, news release, May 23, 2013


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