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Original Research, Animal Studies, Itch

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The prelimbic cortex regulates itch processing by controlling attentional bias.

Itch is a complex and unpleasant sensory experience. Recent studies have begun to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying the modulation of sensory and emotional components of itch in the brain. However, the key brain regions and neural mechanism involved in modulating the attentional processing of itch remain elusive. Here, we showed that the prelimbic cortex (PrL) is associated with itch processing and that the manipulation of itch-responsive neurons in the PrL significantly disrupted itch-induced scratching. Interestingly, we found that increasing attentional bias toward a distracting stimulus could disturb itch processing. We also demonstrated the existence of a population of attention-related neurons in the PrL that drive attentional bias to regulate itch processing. Importantly, itch-responsive neurons and attention-related neurons significantly overlapped in the PrL and were mutually interchangeable in the regulation of itch processing at the cellular activity level. Our results revealed that the PrL regulates itch processing by controlling attentional bias.

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Distinct roles of dopamine receptor subtypes in the nucleus accumbens during itch signal processing.

Ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopaminergic neurons, which are well known for their central roles in reward and motivation-related behaviors, have been shown to participate in itch processing via their projection to the nucleus accumbens (NAc). However, the functional roles of different dopamine receptor subtypes in subregions of the NAc during itch processing remain unknown. With pharmacological approaches, we found that the blockade of dopamine D1 receptors (D1R), but not dopamine D2 receptors (D2R), in the lateral shell (LaSh) of the NAc impaired pruritogen-induced scratching behavior in male mice. In contrast, pharmacological activation of D2R in both the LaSh and medial shell (MeSh) of the NAc attenuated the scratching behavior induced by pruritogens. Consistently, we found that dopamine release, as detected by a dopamine sensor, was elevated in the LaSh rather than the MeSh of the NAc at the onset of scratching behavior. Furthermore, the elevation of dopamine release in the LaSh of the NAc persisted even though itch-relieving behavior was blocked, suggesting that the dopamine signal in the NAc LaSh represents a motivational component of itch processing. Our study revealed different dynamics of dopamine release that target neurons expressing different dopamine receptors within different subregions of the NAc, and emphasized that D1R in the LaSh of the NAc is important in itch signal processing.Dopamine has been implicated in itch signal processing. However, the mechanism underlying the functional role of dopamine in itch processing remains largely unknown. Here, we examined the role of D1R and D2R in the NAc shell during pruritogen-induced scratching behavior. We demonstrated that D1R in the NAc LaSh might play an important role in motivating itch-induced scratching behavior, while activation of D2R would terminate scratching behavior. Our study revealed the diverse functional roles of dopamine signals in the NAc shell during itch processing.

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Melatonin attenuates acute and chronic itch in mice: the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of melatonin receptors.

Itch is a common symptom of skin diseases and significantly reduces patients' quality of life. Melatonin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Our study examined the potential anti-itch effects of melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) in mice.

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Satellite Glial Cells and Neurons in Trigeminal Ganglia Are Altered in an Itch Model in Mice.

Itch (pruritus) is a common chronic condition with a lifetime prevalence of over 20%. The mechanisms underlying itch are poorly understood, and its therapy is difficult. There is recent evidence that following nerve injury or inflammation, intercellular communications in sensory ganglia are augmented, which may lead to abnormal neuronal activity, and hence to pain, but there is no information whether such changes take place in an itch model. We studied changes in neurons and satellite glial cells (SGCs) in trigeminal ganglia in an itch model in mice using repeated applications of 2,4,6-trinitro-1-chlorobenzene (TNCB) to the external ear over a period of 11 days. Treated mice showed augmented scratching behavior as compared with controls during the application period and for several days afterwards. Immunostaining for the activation marker glial fibrillary acidic protein in SGCs was greater by about 35% after TNCB application, and gap junction-mediated coupling between neurons increased from about 2% to 13%. The injection of gap junction blockers reduced scratching behavior, suggesting that gap junctions contribute to itch. Calcium imaging studies showed increased responses of SGCs to the pain (and presumed itch) mediator ATP. We conclude that changes in both neurons and SGCs in sensory ganglia may play a role in itch.

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The exploration of the potential mechanism of oxymatrine-mediated antipruritic effect based on network pharmacology and weighted gene co-expression network analysis.

The treatment of chronic itch is considered to be a challenge for its non-histamine dependence and the search for alternative medicine is still striving. The pathology of the chronic itch is closely related to immune system regulation and inflammatory response. Oxymatrine (OMT) is a traditional Chinese medicine ingredient extracted from the roots of Aiton with significant antitumor, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects. However, the underlying mechanism of OMT on chronic itch is obscure, which limits clinical application. Hence, this study is aimed to clarify the pruritus alleviation mechanism of OMT by combining network pharmacology analysis, weighted gene co-expression analysis (WGCNA), and molecular docking. We screened 125 common targets of OMT regulating inflammation and pruritus with pharmacology technology, the GO enrichment function analysis and KEGG signaling pathway analysis to demonstrate the close relation to the signaling pathways regulating inflammation such as MAPK signaling pathway and PI3K-AKT signaling pathway. We adopted the most relevant templates for pruritus diseases, combined with network pharmacology to preliminarily screen out 3 OMT functions and regulatory targets, exerting a good connection and correlation with the target at the screened disease targets. Further experiments were conducted to explore the potential mechanism of OMT using the LPS-induced RAW264.7 cell inflammation model. The results showed that pretreatment with different concentrations of OMT (25 μM, 50 μM, and 100 μM) for 24 h, inhibited expression of IL-6, iNOS TLR4 and TGFR-1 as well as apoptosis of Raw264.7 cells induced by LPS. Moreover, OMT effectively inhibited LPS-induced MAPK pathway activation and the expression of related sites MAP2K1, MAPK8 MAP2K4, and MAPKAP-K2 in RAW 264.7 cells. The OMT also reduced the phosphorylation of p-38, associated with site in the activation of MAPK signaling pathway. These results could contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying how OMT alleviates inflammation to treat chronic pruritic diseases and provide a potential drug for the treatment of chronic itch.

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Multilineage-differentiating stress-enduring cells alleviate atopic dermatitis-associated behaviors in mice.

Pruritus is a recurring, long-lasting skin disease with few effective treatments. Many patients have unsatisfactory responses to currently available antipruritic treatments, and effective therapeutics are urgently needed to relieve symptoms. A previous study reported that mesenchymal stem cell (MSC)-mediated immune regulation could be used to treat skin inflammatory diseases. Multilineage-differentiating stress-enduring (Muse) cells are a new type of pluripotent stem cell that may also have the potential to treat inflammatory skin diseases.

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Possible Involvement of Type 2 Cytokines in Alloknesis in Mouse Models of Menopause and Dry Skin.

Alloknesis, an abnormal itch sensation induced by innocuous stimuli, is a key phenomenon in the vicious itch-scratch cycle in patients with atopic dermatitis. Dry skin and pruritus, including alloknesis, are major health problems in peri- and post-menopausal women. We recently reported permeability barrier dysfunction in ovariectomised (OVX) mice-a model of menopause-and found that the dysfunction was related to dry skin. However, the mechanism of the itch remains unknown. Therefore, we examined touch- and pruritogen-evoked alloknesis and epidermal innervation in OVX mice and acetone, diethyl ether, and water (AEW)-treated mice, for the experimental dry skin model. Both alloknesis and epidermal innervation were comparable in OVX and AEW mice. Neutralising antibodies against IL-4 and IL-13 inhibited alloknesis in both OVX and AEW mice as early as 30 min after intradermal administration. Comparable values close to the measurement limit of IL-4 were found in the skin of HRT and Sham mice as well as AEW and the control mice, but the levels of IL-4 were within the measurement limit in OVX mice. We could not detect mRNAs of IL-4 or IL-13 in any groups of mice. On the other hand, the number of eosinophils and basophils was increased in OVX and AEW mice. These results suggest that impaired barrier function in cooperation with type 2 cytokines derived from eosinophils and basophils in the skin or with endogenous type 2 cytokine may trigger the development of alloknesis, and thus, these cytokines could be a therapeutic target for sensitive skin.

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Reduced spontaneous itch in mouse models of cholestasis.

Pruritus is one of the most distressing symptoms in cholestatic patients. Plasma autotaxin (ATX) activity correlates with the severity of pruritus in cholestatic patients, but the pathophysiology is unclear. To study pruritus in mice, we measured scratch activity in cholestatic Atp8b1 mutant mice, a model for Progressive Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis type 1, and wild type mice (WT) with alpha-naphthylisothiocyanate (ANIT)-induced cholestasis. To induce cholestasis, Atp8b1 mutant mice received a diet containing 0.1% cholic acid (CA) and WT mice were treated with ANIT. In these mice ATX was also overexpressed by transduction with AAV-ATX. Scratch activity was measured using an unbiased, electronic assay. Marked cholestasis was accomplished in both Atp8b1 mutant mice on a CA-supplemented diet and in ANIT-treatment in WT mice, but scratch activity was decreased rather than increased while plasma ATX activity was increased. Plasma ATX activity was further increased up to fivefold with AAV-ATX, but this did not induce scratch activity. In contrast to several reports two cholestatic mouse models did not display increased scratch activity as a measure of itch perception. Increasing plasma ATX activity by overexpression also did not lead to increased scratch activity in mice. This questions whether mice are suitable to study cholestatic itch.

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Antinociceptive and Antipruritic Effects of HSK21542, a Peripherally-Restricted Kappa Opioid Receptor Agonist, in Animal Models of Pain and Itch.

Kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonists have been promising therapeutic candidates, owing to their potential for relieving pain and treating intractable pruritus. Although lacking morphine-like central nervous system (CNS) effects, KOR agonists do elicit sedation, dysphoria and diuresis which seriously impede their development. Peripherally-restricted KOR agonists have a poor ability to penetrate into the CNS system, so that CNS-related adverse effects can be ameliorated or even abolished. However, the only approved peripherally-restricted KOR agonist CR845 remains some frequent CNS adverse events. In the present study, we aim to address pharmacological profiles of HSK21542, with an expectation to provide a safe and effective alternative for patients who are suffering from pain and pruritus. The experimental results showed that HSK21542 was a selective and potent KOR agonist with higher potency than CR845, and had a brain/plasma concentration ratio of 0.001, indicating its peripheral selectivity. In animal models of pain, HSK21542 significantly inhibited acetic acid-, hindpaw incision- or chronic constriction injury-induced pain-related behaviors, and the efficacy was comparable to CR845 at 15 min post-dosing. HSK21542 had a long-lasting analgesic potency with a median effective dose of 1.48 mg/kg at 24 h post-drug in writhing test. Meanwhile, the antinociceptive activity of HSK21542 was effectively reversed by a KOR antagonist nor-binaltorphimine. In addition, HSK21542 had powerful antipruritic activities in compound 48/80-induced itch model. On the other hand, HSK21542 had a weak ability to produce central antinociceptive effects in a hot-plate test and fewer effects on the locomotor activity of mice. HSK21542 didn't affect the respiratory rate of mice. Therefore, HSK21542 might be a safe and effective KOR agonist and promising candidate for treating pain and pruritus.

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