Itch-Specific Cells In Mice Spinal Cords And Better Itch Relief

    Aug-10-2009

Here is some good news for people who are frustrated over their itch problems. A recent study conducted by scientists at the Washington University in St. Louis has identified a crucial group of cells that transmits alerts regarding itches to the brain. During the course of their research, these scientists eliminated these cells in mice, the process assuaged their skin inflammation or itchiness without impinging on their aptitude to feel pain. Experts are of the opinion that this finding is likely to open up new vistas for producing improved medications to alleviate itchiness.

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Many people may dismiss the finding of this research as insignificant, but there is no scope for undermining the requirement for new and improved medications for alleviating itchiness. It is true that the irritation owing to insect bites or hypersensitivity usually disappears when you scrape the place a little or use a little bit of antihistamines. However, there are people who may scratch themselves red, but still not obtain any relief from itchiness. In fact, there are people who endure routine itchiness that is set off by an assortment of conditions, including specific types of cancer, incessant kidney malfunctioning as well as owing to administration of specific narcotic pain killers. Earlier studies conducted on the subject have discovered several nerve conduits that appear to be engaged in both cases.

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However, the recent report regarding the finding of the research published in the journal Science is the first to recognize cells that specifically trigger itchiness in the spinal cord - the nerve highway that carries the feeling to the brain. According to the renowned expert on itch, Dr. Gil Yosipovitch of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, who was not engaged with the recent research, the finding of the study is really thrilling. He said that this all-inclusive research by the scientists of Washington University in St. Louis offers more opportunity for further study on the topic.

In 2007, an associate professor of anesthesiology in Washington University and lead researcher, Zhou-Feng Chen found the GRPR, which is considered to be the first gene associated with itchiness. The group of scientists led by Chen detected that the mice having a dormant variety of the gene actually scraped less when they were exposed to scratchy substances in comparison to mice possessing the vigorous gene. However, at that time, this was not an evidence of the fact that the nerve cells (neurons) present in the spinal chord that harbored the GRPR were responsible for itchiness. In fact, these could also be imperative to the genes associated with the feeling of pain.

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Hence, the next time, the research team headed by Cheng shot neurotoxin injections in the spinal cord of the mice. It may be mentioned here that neurotoxin searches for the GRPR receptor - a type of a docking location. Approximately after two weeks, the researchers discovered that the toxin injected into the spinal cord of the mice had eliminated around 80 per cent of the cells that sheltered the particular itching gene. It is interesting to note that prior to administering the neurotoxin shots, the mice were found to be scratching enthusiastically. However, following the administration of the toxic injection, the scratching in the mice dropped remarkably and in some cases the itchiness had disappeared completely. This was despite the fact that Chen and his research team members introduced one itching substance after another to these mice after the administration of the neurotoxin injection.

However, administration of the neurotoxin injections did not numb the sensation of these mice. In fact, their motor operation continued to be as usual and hence they were still able to respond to pain caused by heat and stress. A succession of familiar trials on these mice demonstrated that the animals tapped their tails or pulled back their paws when they were subjected to different types of pressures.

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Nevertheless, Dr. Gil Yosipovitch of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina emphasized that this was not the sole conduit to the brain. At the same time, the scientists are yet to ascertain if these itch-causing cells would perform in a similar manner in people. However, scientists are still in the process of looking for receptors that trigger itchiness and transmit the feeling to the brain with the anticipation of ultimately gaining knowledge regarding the ways and means to prevent these genes from sending the 'scratch me' signals to the brain. In doing so, the primary aim of the scientists is to help people get relief from at least some varieties of itchiness.

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