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Papers of the Week

Papers: 20 Apr 2019 - 26 Apr 2019

Animal Studies

2019 May 22




Editor's Pick

Central Processing of Itch in the Midbrain Reward Center.


Su X-Y, Chen M, Yuan Y, Li Y, Guo S-S, Luo H-Q, Huang C, Sun W, Li Y, Zhu MX, Liu M-G, Hu J, Xu T-L
Neuron. 2019 May 22; 102(4):858-872.e5.
PMID: 31000426.


Itch is an aversive sensation that evokes a desire to scratch. Paradoxically, scratching the itch also produces a hedonic experience. The specific brain circuits processing these different aspects of itch, however, remain elusive. Here, we report that GABAergic (GABA) and dopaminergic (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) are activated with different temporal patterns during acute and chronic itch. DA neuron activation lags behind GABA neurons and is dependent on scratching of the itchy site. Optogenetic manipulations of VTA GABA neurons rapidly modulated scratching behaviors through encoding itch-associated aversion. In contrast, optogenetic manipulations of VTA DA neurons revealed their roles in sustaining recurrent scratching episodes through signaling scratching-induced reward. A similar dichotomy exists for the role of VTA in chronic itch. These findings advance understanding of circuit mechanisms of the unstoppable itch-scratch cycles and shed important insights into chronic itch therapy.