Itch (pruritus), specifically chronic itch associated with disease conditions, significantly impairs the patient's quality of life. At present, the mechanisms underlying this aversive experience are still unclear, and the effective treatment of itch is largely unmet. Here, we report that intragastrical administration of bulleyaconitine A (BLA), which has been used for treating chronic pain for 30 years in China, inhibited itch-like behaviors induced by intradermal injection of histamine and chloroquine in mice and rats, dose-dependently. We found that a single application of the pruritic agents at the skin region innervated by the sural nerve induced long-term potentiation (LTP) of C-fiber field potentials evoked by the stimulation of the same nerve in the spinal dorsal horn of rats. The spinal LTP was remarkably reversed by the spinal application of either BLA or gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) antagonist (PD176252). The effect of PD176252 was completely occluded by BLA, while the effect of BLA was only partially occluded by PD176252. Repetitive injection (daily, for four days) of either histamine or chloroquine in the back of the neck enhanced scratching behaviors progressively, and the itch sensitization persisted for at least one week after the discontinuation of the injections. The behavioral change was accompanied with the potentiation of C-fiber synaptic transmission in the dorsal horn. Both the itch sensitization and synaptic potentiation were substantially attenuated by intragastrical BLA. Together, BLA was effective in inhibiting histamine-dependent and histamine-independent itches, and the mechanisms underlying these effects were involved but not limited to the inhibition of GRP-GRPR signaling in the spinal dorsal horn.
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