Antibody Targeting Itch-Producing Protein Superior to Antihistamine Therapy?

Researchers from Duke Health and Zhejiang Chinese Medical University have discovered a new approach to treating the itch triggered by urushiol, the substance found in plants including poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, and mango trees. Working with mouse models, the team used an antibody to block an immune system protein, interleukin-33 (IL-33), that signals the itch sensation to the brain. It is hoped that the discovery can lead to the development of new therapies for treating the 80% of humans who experience an allergic reaction to these plants. Senior author Sven-Eric Jordt, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at Duke, commented, “Poison ivy rash is the most common allergic reaction in the US, and studies have shown that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are creating a proliferation of poison ivy…even in places where it wasn’t growing before.” The findings were published earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Treatment for the 10 million-plus people affected by the urushiol reaction annually typically involves antihistamines and steroids, but is time-consuming, and often not completely effective. Following identification of IL-33 and the role of this skin protein in triggering the immune response, the researchers introduced an antibody in mice affected with poison ivy rash that both reduced inflammation and scratching. A second approach, involving blockage of the ST2 receptor for IL-33, was also found effective in itch alleviation. The authors said that a Phase 1 clinical trial of an antibody targeted to humans is currently in process.

A news story about the discovery may be read here.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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