Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, have discovered the process by which sensory neurons transmit itch signals from the skin to the spinal cord, and then to the brain. The advance may facilitate the development of better, more targeted therapies for chronic itch. Principal investigator Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD, director of the University’s Center for the Study of Itch, commented, “It appears there is cross-talk between pathways called calcium channels in sensory nerve cells that process the itch signal. By interfering with the activity of sensory neurons, we may be able to inhibit multiple types of itching.” The findings were published online earlier this week in the journal Science Signaling.
Chronic itching is a serious condition and is often resistant to treatment with antihistamines. The team studied how neurons in the dorsal root ganglion of laboratory mice process 2 types of itch signals, histamine-induced and chloroquine-induced. It had been thought that these traveled through 2 different calcium channels, but experimentation showed that a third calcium channel exists that can transmit either type of itch, and that the original 2 channels work together to process both types as well. The findings suggest that it may be possible to target a single channel “upstream” of neurons in the spinal cord to successfully treat multiple types of itch conditions.
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Read more about the research findings here.
The journal abstract may be read here.