February 22nd, 2015
When you have an itch on the skin, what is the first thing you do? Obviously, our first immediate and natural response would be to scratch the spot of the itch with our fingernails. But, do you have any idea what is happening under your skin when you have an itch?
Itchy feelings are caused by a hundred different things. Pruritus or chronic itching is an unpleasant sensation on the skin that generally provokes in us the desire to rub or scratch the area in order to obtain relief. But that is not the only option. New research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation explains how chronic itching is different from other types.
The main characteristic distinguishing chronic itching from normal itch is that the former incorporates not just the itch neurons but also neurons that are responsible for causing pain. Normal itch, on the other hand, involves a fixed pathway that transmits only the itch signals.
Chronic itch thus causes pain as well as discomfort. The study mentioned above, conducted on mice, revealed that BRAF protein may play a role in turning itch genes on and off. BRAF gene and its protein were already known to be involved in pain response. The new findings suggest that targeting the BRAF pathways could help in treating chronic itch too. Although chronic itch and pain are different, it seems that one pathway does lead to the other.
Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis speculate that the remarkable discovery may help develop efficient treatment strategies to target groups of neurons that play a role in inducing both itch as well as pain. Furthermore, there are many pathways leading from BRAF that could be potential hotspots for developing anti-itch therapies and drug discovery.
Source: Zhau ZQ, Huo FQ, Jeffry J, Hampton L, Demehri S, Kim S, Liu XY, Barry DM, Wan L, Liu ZC, Li H, Turkoz A, Ma K, Cornelius LA, Kopan R, Battey JF, Zhong J, Chen ZF (2013). Chronic itch development in sensory neurons requires BRAF signaling pathways The Journal of Clinical Investigation DOI: 10.1172/JCI70528
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