Issue No. 21
Decoding That Itchy FeelingDate: July 16, 2013
For many people, it’s a fine line between itch and pain, and Johns Hopkins researchers are untangling the tiny nerves in the skin that correspond to one sensation or the other.
“Before, they thought all of the small neurons were pain neurons,” says Xinzhong Dong, Ph.D., a neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins. “The most common drug is antihistamine or steroids, but that doesn’t block itch. It just lowers inflammation,” which is a broad symptom of itch.
“Now,” Dong adds, “we can see what is really pain and what is really itch.”
A potential new drug would target the neurons for itch and prevent them from firing, rather than simply treat the inflammation. Chronic itch sufferers would benefit from a drug that “switches off” an itch without desensitizing them to important pain signals.