JUL 14, 2019 11:23 AM PDT

Scratching a Chronic Itch

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

There are many potential reasons why skin might itch, but this annoying condition can significantly impact quality of life when it doesn’t go away. Scientists have had difficulty understanding what causes chronic itch, and while there are theories, there isn’t an effective treatment. New work reported in Science Translational Medicine may help change that.

Nerves that stimulate skin are grouped in structures next to the spinal cord. Here, nerves in such a structure -- called a dorsal root ganglion -- that are involved in detecting an itch are labeled green. Nerves involved in sensing pain, temperature and other stimuli are shown in magenta. / Credit: Hans Juergen Solinski, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

In previous work, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) researcher Mark Hoon, Ph.D., and colleagues identified a receptor called Npr1. It was found on nerve cells in mouse spinal cord neurons and binds to a protein that’s been linked to itch. When the Npr1 receptor is bound to the protein, it helps cause the itch sensation. Blocking Npr1 then became a strategy in the search for drugs that can control chronic itch.

to develop drugs from what they identify eventually discover a therapeutic that can block Npr1, and potentially relieve chronic itchiness, researchers at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the NIDCR used a rapid screening technique to assess 86,000 compounds.

Hoon collaborated with NCATS scientist James Inglese, Ph.D., and his team to screen the molecules. They developed a variety of tests in their effort, and along with robot helpers, they narrowed the pool of potential drugs to about 1,400 compounds. Next, they created a new set of assays to identify the best candidates. A subset of fifteen molecules was eventually shown to stop the Npr1 receptor from functioning in both human and mouse cells. Following up in a mouse model, the scientists found that by block ing Npr1, scratching was reduced.

The investigators are continuing to search for more drugs that can stop Npr1 from binding its target and causing itchiness, and want to eventually develop drugs from what they identify.

"This is a proof-of-concept study and an important application of what NCATS does," Inglese said. "We wanted to show that by pharmacologically blocking the target receptor, the approach could be successful in finding a drug to treat chronic itch. Because it can take a long time to develop an ideal compound, the rationale behind the approach needs to be well-vetted."

Learn more about chronic itch from the video above, and why scratching an itch can make it worse from the following video.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via NIH/NCATS, Science Translational Medicine

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
APR 19, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Announcing ISHI 32: Attend In Person or Virtually!
APR 19, 2021
Announcing ISHI 32: Attend In Person or Virtually!
The 32nd International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI 32) will be held this September at Disney’s Coronad ...
MAY 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Another Piece of the Lyme Puzzle is Solved
MAY 16, 2021
Another Piece of the Lyme Puzzle is Solved
Over the past 20 years, Lyme has gone from a virtually unknown disease to the most reported vector-borne illness in the ...
MAY 20, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
The rhAmpSeq™ CRISPR Analysis System for next-generation sequencing analysis of CRISPR edits
MAY 20, 2021
The rhAmpSeq™ CRISPR Analysis System for next-generation sequencing analysis of CRISPR edits
CRISPR genome editing generates double-stranded breaks (DSBs) in genomic DNA and is a targeted method by which to achiev ...
MAY 23, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Predictions in the Fly Brain Use Potentially Universal Methods
MAY 23, 2021
Predictions in the Fly Brain Use Potentially Universal Methods
The brain of the fruit fly may only be the size of a poppy seed, but it seems that it's capable of making prediction ...
MAY 30, 2021
Microbiology
The Mechanics of a Gliding Microbe, Revealed
MAY 30, 2021
The Mechanics of a Gliding Microbe, Revealed
Humans have been able to use machines to master movement, but there are many organisms that can get around just fine on ...
JUN 10, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Does Lithium Prevent Colon Cancer?
JUN 10, 2021
Does Lithium Prevent Colon Cancer?
Researchers found that a drug used in the treatment of mental illness can promote the fitness of healthy gut stem cells, ...
Loading Comments...