Peripheral signaling pathways contributing to non-histaminergic itch in humans

Fiebig A, Leibl V, Oostendorf D, Lukaschek S, Frömbgen J, Masoudi M, Kremer AE, Strupf M, Reeh P, Düll M, Namer B (2023)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2023


Book Volume: 21

Article Number: 908

Journal Issue: 1

DOI: 10.1186/s12967-023-04698-z


Background: Chronic itch (chronic pruritus) is a major therapeutic challenge that remains poorly understood despite the extensive recent analysis of human pruriceptors. It is unclear how the peripheral nervous system differentiates the signaling of non-histaminergic itch and pain. Methods: Here we used psychophysical analysis and microneurography (single nerve fiber recordings) in healthy human volunteers to explore the distinct signaling mechanisms of itch, using the pruritogens β-alanine, BAM 8-22 and cowhage extract. Results: The mode of application (injection or focal application using inactivated cowhage spicules) influenced the itch/pain ratio in sensations induced by BAM 8-22 and cowhage but not β-alanine. We found that sensitizing pre-injections of prostaglandin E2 increased the pain component of BAM 8-22 but not the other pruritogens. A-fibers contributed only to itch induced by β-alanine. TRPV1 and TRPA1 were necessary for itch signaling induced by all three pruritogens. In single-fiber recordings, we found that BAM 8-22 and β-alanine injection activated nearly all CM-fibers (to different extents) but not CMi-fibers, whereas cowhage extract injection activated only 56% of CM-fibers but also 25% of CMi-fibers. A “slow bursting discharge pattern” was evoked in 25% of CM-fibers by β-alanine, in 35% by BAM 8-22, but in only 10% by cowhage extract. Conclusion: Our results indicate that no labeled line exists for these pruritogens in humans. A combination of different mechanisms, specific for each pruritogen, leads to itching sensations rather than pain. Notably, non-receptor-based mechanisms such as spatial contrast or discharge pattern coding seem to be important processes. These findings will facilitate the discovery of therapeutic targets for chronic pruritus, which are unlikely to be treated effectively by single receptor blockade.

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Fiebig, A., Leibl, V., Oostendorf, D., Lukaschek, S., Frömbgen, J., Masoudi, M.,... Namer, B. (2023). Peripheral signaling pathways contributing to non-histaminergic itch in humans. Journal of Translational Medicine, 21(1).


Fiebig, Andrea, et al. "Peripheral signaling pathways contributing to non-histaminergic itch in humans." Journal of Translational Medicine 21.1 (2023).

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