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Itch Neurons

September 9, 2009

Scientists have identified nerve cells dedicated to the itch sensation.


Scratching the surface of itch. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

We think of itching and pain as two different sensations. Yet, scientists have generally considered itch to be a minor form of pain, since it involves many of the same nerves. Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have identified nerve cells in mice dedicated just to itch. Knocking out those nerves made the mice itch-proof, but not pain-proof. Team leader Zhou Feng-Chen says the finding could lead to safe treatments for chronic itching.

ZHOU FENG-CHEN (Washington University School of Medicine):
Such treatment would not interfere with other sensations which are critical to protect our bodies.

After all, an inability to feel pain can be extremely dangerous, since you could fail to notice something that’s causing a severe burn or injury. But chronic itching wouldn’t be missed. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.