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


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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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).

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