Research: A molecule triggers itching

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Itching is caused by a molecule in the spinal cord

Itchy skin can be very uncomfortable. US researchers have now found out how attractive it is to scratch. According to this, guilt is a single molecule that attaches itself to a nerve cell in the spinal cord. In mouse experiments, the Nppb molecule was identified as a trigger for the itching.

Molecule plays a key role in the development of itching There are numerous causes of itching, such as allergies, diseases of the skin or internal organs. However, exactly what triggers the attraction of scratching was previously unknown. Recently, American scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified a single molecule as the cause of the uncomfortable feeling. As the researchers report in the scientific journal "Science", experiments in mice have shown that the Nppb molecule, which attaches to a nerve cell in the spinal cord, is responsible for the itching. After the Nppb molecule had docked onto the nerve cell, it sent a signal to the mice, which was interpreted in the brain as an itch. Nppb is one of the so-called neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that act as transmitters of sensory signals between the nerve cells.

For the investigations, the scientists removed the Nppb molecule or the nerve cell from part of the mice. "We tested Nppb for its possible role in triggering different sensations without success," said Santosh Mishra, lead author of the study. “When we exposed the mice, which lacked Nppb, to several itching substances, we made astonishing observations: nothing happened. The mice just didn't scratch. "

The study also shows that certain scientific assumptions are incorrect. "Our work shows that itching is not a form of mild pain, as previously assumed, but a distinct sensation that is clearly linked to the nervous system with the biochemical equivalent of its own dedicated line to the brain," study leader Mark Hoon reported.

Research to control itching is just beginning The researchers suspect that the results of their studies in mice are also transferable to humans, since the two nervous systems are similar. In the future, drugs could be developed that target specific molecules and thus prevent itching. If successful, the suffering of millions of people worldwide suffering from conditions such as psoriasis with chronic itching could be alleviated. However, it will be some time before such drugs are developed. Nppb also occurs in the kidneys, heart, and other parts of the body, so control of the molecule in the spinal cord could potentially cause problems at another stele.

"The challenge now is to find similar bio-cycles in humans, evaluate what is there, and identify unique molecules that can target chronic itching without causing unwanted side effects," said Hoon. "So this is a beginning, not a conclusion." (Ag)

Image: S. Hofschlaeger /

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