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Chinese scientists discover itch pathway

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-08-18 19:52

In a global first, Chinese scientists have found a critical pathway for transmitting the sensation of an itch from the spinal cord to the brain.

The discovery is likely to bring new insights into developing potential therapies for chronic itchiness.

Signals of an itch can originate from any part of the body and are transmitted to the spinal cord. Researchers discovered that they are then passed by two particular types of spinal neurons in succession to a part of the brainstem called the parabrachial nucleus.

A paper about the discovery by the team from the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was published on Friday in the United States-based journal Science.

Therapeutic approaches for chronic itch treatment have developed slowly due to the lack of knowledge about itch mechanisms. Their discovery after four years of work may lead to breakthroughs in identifying potential specific drug targets for treatment of chronic itching, lead researcher Sun Yangang said.

"If researchers can find specific molecular targets at vital nodes on the itch pathway, the transmission of the itch signal will be blocked and thus the quality of life of patients suffering pruritus will be largely improved," he said.

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