A central neural circuit for itch sensation
Although itch sensation is an important protective mechanism for animals, chronic itch remains a challenging clinical problem. Itch processing has been studied extensively at the spinal level. However, how itch information is transmitted to the brain and what central circuits underlie the itch-induced scratching behavior remain largely unknown. We found that the spinoparabrachial pathway was activated during itch processing and that optogenetic suppression of this pathway impaired itch-induced scratching behaviors. Itch-mediating spinal neurons, which express the gastrin-releasing peptide receptor, are disynaptically connected to the parabrachial nucleus via glutamatergic spinal projection neurons. Blockade of synaptic output of glutamatergic neurons in the parabrachial nucleus suppressed pruritogen-induced scratching behavior. Thus, our studies reveal a central neural circuit that is critical for itch signal processing.
Neuropathic itch is a pathological condition that is due to damage within the nervous system. This type of itch can be severe and unrelenting, which has a very negative impact on quality of life. Neuropathic itch is more common than generally appreciated because most types of neuropathic pain have a neuropathic itch counterpart. Unfortunately, much like neuropathic pain, there is a lack of effective treatments for neuropathic itch. Here, we consider the neural basis of itch and then describe how injuries within these neural circuits can lead to neuropathic itch in both animal models and human disease states.
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