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Papers of the Week

Papers: 2 Jul 2022 - 8 Jul 2022



Front Mol Neurosci


Molecular Determinants of Mechanical Itch Sensitization in Chronic Itch.


Lee H K, Graham RD, Melikyan D, Smith B, Mirzakhalili E, Lempka SF, Duan B
Front Mol Neurosci. 2022; 15:937890.
PMID: 35782385.


Chronic itch is associated with sensitization of the somatosensory nervous system. Recent studies have identified the neural circuits transmitting acute itch; however, the mechanisms by which itch transforms into a pathological state remain largely unknown. We have previously shown that Aβ low-threshold mechanoreceptors, together with spinal urocortin 3-positive (Ucn3) excitatory interneurons and neuropeptide Y-positive (NPY) inhibitory interneurons, form a microcircuit that transmits and gates acute mechanical itch. Here, using whole-cell patch-clamp recordings, we observed increased excitability in spinal Ucn3 neurons under chronic itch conditions. In contrast to Ucn3 neurons, the excitability of spinal NPY neurons was largely reduced under chronic itch conditions. To explore the molecular mechanisms underlying sensitization of this microcircuit, we examined the mRNA expression levels of voltage-gated ion channels in recorded spinal Ucn3 and NPY neurons by single-cell quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR). We found that the expression levels of Nav1.6 and Cav2.3 channels were increased in spinal Ucn3 neurons in chronic itch mice, while the expression level of SK3 channels was decreased. By contrast, the expression levels of Nav1.6 and BK channels were decreased in spinal NPY neurons in chronic itch mice. To determine the contribution of different ion channels in chronic itch sensitization, we then used a Markov Chain Monte Carlo method to parameterize a large number of biophysically distinct multicompartment models of Ucn3 and NPY neurons. These models included explicit representations of the ion channels that we found to be up- or down-regulated under chronic itch conditions. Our models demonstrated that changes in Nav1.6 conductance are predominantly responsible for the changes in excitability of both Ucn3 and NPY neurons during chronic itch pathogenesis. Furthermore, when simulating microcircuits of our Ucn3 and NPY models, we found that reduced Nav1.6 conductance in NPY models played a major role in opening the itch gate under chronic itch conditions. However, changing SK, BK, or R-type calcium channel conductance had negligible effects on the sensitization of this circuit. Therefore, our results suggest that Nav1.6 channels may play an essential role in mechanical itch sensitization. The findings presented here may open a new avenue for developing pharmaceutical strategies to treat chronic itch.