Investigators at the University of Zurich have discovered a new approach that treats the chronic itch thanks to two receptors in the spinal cord and the right experimental drug.
Through a series of experiments in animal models, researchers were successful in alleviating different forms of acute as well as chronic itch. The drug serves especially useful for treating chronic itch since current treatment options are limited.
Itching can occur from many factors. For one, itching can be caused by the unpleasant feeling of being bitten by a mosquito. This type of itch is luckily treated by multiple OTC drugs as well as prescriptions. However, these particular drugs cannot effectively treat the debilitating itch that is caused by patients suffering from skin, kidney, or liver diseases. This particular chronic itch condition, affecting roughly 10 percent of the population, is currently managed with antidepressants or immune suppressants. Once again, these drugs were created to treat other diseases but often fail to be effective in providing the desired relief or come with negative side effects.
Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer, a professor at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Zurich, and his research team have now discovered a new way to alleviate the itching sensation. The researchers used an experimental drug to boost the effect of certain neurons present in the spine that block the itch signals from being sent to the brain. The scientists had also previously pinned and described these particular neurons three years ago. Since then, genetic mouse models were used to identify two specific receptors that control the effect of the spinal neurons. These receptors are considered part of a larger group of receptors that are activated by the amino acid transmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Furthermore, the studied experimental drug was originally developed to treat anxiety through interactions with the two identified receptors. In the experiments, the researchers were able to show that the drug not only suppressed acute itch, but it effectively suppressed against the chronic itch. Mouse models that were treated with the drug were less inclined to scratch themselves and their skin changes healed more efficiently than the animal models administered the placebo. Most importantly, the drug did not cause and any adverse side-effects. "We are confident that the substance we've tested will also be effective in humans,” says Zeilhofer. “At the same time, the findings should be very valuable for veterinary medicine, since: Like humans, dogs also often suffer from the chronic itch. They too, therefore, stand to benefit from the approach."
Story Source: Nature Communications, University of Zurich