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Papers: 28 Mar 2020 - 3 Apr 2020



2020 Mar 30

Neurosci Biobehav Rev

Placebo and nocebo effects for itch and itch-related immune outcomes: a systematic review of animal and human studies.


Meeuwis SH, van Middendorp H, van Laarhoven AIM, van Leijenhorst C, Pacheco-Lopez G, Lavrijsen APM, Veldhuijzen DS, Evers AWM
Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020 Mar 30.
PMID: 32240668.


Placebo and nocebo effects can influence somatic symptoms such as pain. For itch and other dermatological symptoms these effects have been far less investigated. This review systematically integrates evidence from both animal (mainly rodents) and human trials on placebo and nocebo effects in itch, itch-related symptoms and conditions of the skin and mucous membranes, and related immune outcomes (e.g., histamine). Thirty-one animal studies, and fifty-five human studies (k = 21 healthy participants, k = 34 patients) were included. Overall, studies consistently show that placebo and nocebo effects can be induced by various methods (e.g., suggestions, conditioning and social cues), despite high heterogeneity across studies. Effects of suggestions were found consistently across subjective and behavioral parameters (e.g., itch and scratching in humans), whereas conditioning was likely to impact physiological parameters under certain conditions (e.g., conditioning of histamine levels in stressed rodents). Brain areas responsible for itch processing were associated with nocebo effects. Future research may investigate how variations in methods impact placebo and nocebo effects, and whether all symptoms and conditions can be influenced equally.