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Papers of the Week

Papers: 18 May 2024 - 24 May 2024

2024 May 23

Mol Brain




Region-specific activation in the accumbens nucleus by itch with modified scratch efficacy in mice – a model-free multivariate analysis.


Inokuchi-Sakata S, Narita R, Takahashi Y, Ishiuji Y, Asahina A, Kato F


Itch is a protective/defensive function with divalent motivational drives. Itch itself elicits an unpleasant experience, which triggers the urge to scratch, relieving the itchiness. Still, it can also result in dissatisfaction when the scratch is too intense and painful or unsatisfactory due to insufficient scratch effect. Therefore, it is likely that the balance between the unpleasantness/pleasure and satisfaction/unsatisfaction associated with itch sensation and scratching behavior is determined by complex brain mechanisms. The physiological/pathological mechanisms underlying this balance remain largely elusive. To address this issue, we targeted the “reward center” of the brain, the nucleus accumbens (NAc), in which itch-responsive neurons have been found in rodents. We examined how neurons in the NAc are activated or suppressed during histamine-induced scratching behaviors in mice. The mice received an intradermal injection of histamine or saline at the neck, and the scratching number was analyzed by recording the movement of the bilateral hind limbs for about 45 min after injection. To experimentally manipulate the scratch efficacy in these histamine models, we compared histamine’s behavioral and neuronal effects between mice with intact and clipped nails on the hind paws. As expected, the clipping of the hind limb nail increased the number of scratches after the histamine injection. In the brains of mice exhibiting scratching behaviors, we analyzed the expression of the c-fos gene (Fos) as a readout of an immediate activation of neurons during itch/scratch and dopamine receptors (Drd1 and Drd2) using multiplex single-molecule fluorescence in situ hybridization (RNAscope) in the NAc and surrounding structures. We performed a model-free analysis of gene expression in geometrically divided NAc subregions without assuming the conventional core-shell divisions. The results indicated that even within the NAc, multiple subregions responded differentially to various itch/scratch conditions. We also found different clusters with neurons showing similar or opposite changes in Fos expression and the correlation between scratch number and Fos expression in different itch/scratch conditions. These regional differences and clusters would provide a basis for the complex role of the NAc and surrounding structures in encoding the outcomes of scratching behavior and itchy sensations.