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Relief of itch by scratching: state-dependent inhibition of primate spinothalamic tract neurons

Abstract

Itch is relieved by scratching, but the neural mechanisms that are responsible for this are unknown. Spinothalamic tract (STT) neurons respond to itch-producing agents and transmit pruritic information to the brain. We observed that scratching the cutaneous receptive field of primate STT neurons produced inhibition during histamine-evoked activity but not during spontaneous activity or activity evoked by a painful stimulus, suggesting that scratching inhibits the transmission of itch in the spinal cord in a state-dependent manner.

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Figure 1: STT neurons are reliably activated by scratching, often with an after-discharge.
Figure 2: Scratching inhibits histamine-evoked activation of STT neurons.
Figure 3: State-dependency of inhibition.

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Acknowledgements

We thank H. Truong for his valuable technical assistance. This work was supported by US National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grants NS-047399 and NS-059199 and by the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota.

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Correspondence to Glenn J Giesler Jr.

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Davidson, S., Zhang, X., Khasabov, S. et al. Relief of itch by scratching: state-dependent inhibition of primate spinothalamic tract neurons. Nat Neurosci 12, 544–546 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2292

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