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1.  The TGR5 receptor mediates bile acid–induced itch and analgesia 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2013;123(4):1513-1530.
Patients with cholestatic disease exhibit pruritus and analgesia, but the mechanisms underlying these symptoms are unknown. We report that bile acids, which are elevated in the circulation and tissues during cholestasis, cause itch and analgesia by activating the GPCR TGR5. TGR5 was detected in peptidergic neurons of mouse dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord that transmit itch and pain, and in dermal macrophages that contain opioids. Bile acids and a TGR5-selective agonist induced hyperexcitability of dorsal root ganglia neurons and stimulated the release of the itch and analgesia transmitters gastrin-releasing peptide and leucine-enkephalin. Intradermal injection of bile acids and a TGR5-selective agonist stimulated scratching behavior by gastrin-releasing peptide– and opioid-dependent mechanisms in mice. Scratching was attenuated in Tgr5-KO mice but exacerbated in Tgr5-Tg mice (overexpressing mouse TGR5), which exhibited spontaneous pruritus. Intraplantar and intrathecal injection of bile acids caused analgesia to mechanical stimulation of the paw by an opioid-dependent mechanism. Both peripheral and central mechanisms of analgesia were absent from Tgr5-KO mice. Thus, bile acids activate TGR5 on sensory nerves, stimulating the release of neuropeptides in the spinal cord that transmit itch and analgesia. These mechanisms could contribute to pruritus and painless jaundice that occur during cholestatic liver diseases.
PMCID: PMC3613908  PMID: 23524965
2.  Enhanced scratching evoked by PAR-2 agonist and 5-HT but not histamine in a mouse model of chronic dry skin itch 
Pain  2010;151(2):378-383.
Chronic itch is a symptom of many skin conditions and systemic disease, and it has been hypothesized that the chronic itch may result from sensitization of itch-signaling pathways. We induced experimental chronic dry skin on the rostral back of mice, and observed a significant increase in spontaneous hindlimb scratches directed to the dry skin. Spontaneous scratching was significantly attenuated by a PAR-2 antibody and 5-HT2A receptor antagonist, indicating activation of these receptors by endogeneous mediators released under dry skin conditions. We also observed a significant increase in the number of scratch bouts evoked by acute intradermal injections of a protease-activated receptor (PAR)-2 agonist and serotonin (5-HT), but not histamine. We additionally investigated if pruritogen-evoked activity of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons is enhanced in this model. DRG cells from dry skin mice exhibited significantly larger responses to the PAR-2 agonist and 5-HT, but not histamine. Spontaneous scratching may reflect ongoing itch, and enhanced pruritogen-evoked scratching may represent hyperknesis (enhanced itch), both potentially due to sensitization of itch-signaling neurons. The correspondence between enhanced behavioral scratching and DRG cell responses suggests that peripheral pruriceptors that respond to proteases and 5-HT, but not histamine, may be sensitized in dry skin itch.
PMCID: PMC2955821  PMID: 20709455
3.  Site- and state-dependent inhibition of pruritogen-responsive spinal neurons by scratching 
The European journal of neuroscience  2012;36(3):2311-2316.
The relief of itch by scratching is thought to involve inhibition of pruritogen-responsive neurons in the spinal cord. We presently recorded responses of superficial dorsal horn neurons in mice to intradermal injection of the pruritogens chloroquine and histamine. Scratching within an area 5–17 mm distant from the injection site, outside of the units’ mechanoreceptive fields (off-site), significantly inhibited chloroquine- and histamine-evoked responses without affecting capsaicin-evoked firing. This is consistent with observations that scratching at a distance from a site of itch is antipruritic. In contrast, scratching directly at the injection site (within the receptive field; on-site) had no effect on chloroquine-evoked neuronal firing, but enhanced the same neurons’ responses to intradermal injection of the algogen, capsaicin. Moreover, neuronal responses to histamine were enhanced during on-site scratching, followed by suppression of firing below baseline levels after termination of scratching. Scratching thus inhibits pruritogen-responsive neurons in a manner that depends on the input modality (i.e., pain vs. histamine-dependent or histamine-independent itch) and skin location.
PMCID: PMC3412914  PMID: 22626250
itch; pain; histamine; mice; superficial dorsal horn neurons
4.  Cross-sensitization of histamine-independent itch in mouse primary sensory neurons 
Neuroscience  2012;226:305-312.
Overexpression of pruritogens and their precursors may contribute to the sensitization of histamine-dependent and –independent itch-signaling pathways in chronic itch. We presently investigated self- and cross-sensitization of scratching behavior elicited by various pruritogens, and their effects on primary sensory neurons. The MrgprC11 agonist BAM8–22 exhibited self- and reciprocal cross-sensitization of scratching evoked by the protease-activated receptor-2 (PAR-2) agonist SLIGRL. The MrgprA3 agonist chloroquine unidirectionally cross-sensitized BAM8–22-evoked scratching. Histamine unidirectionally cross-sensitized scratching evoked by chloroquine and BAM8–22. SLIGRL unidirectionally cross-sensitized scratching evoked by chloroquine. Dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells responded to various combinations of pruritogens and algogens. Neither chloroquine, BAM8–22 nor histamine had any effect on responses of DRG cell responses to subsequently applied pruritogens, implying that their behavioral self- and cross-sensitization effects are mediated indirectly. SLIGRL unilaterally cross-sensitized responses of DRG cells to chloroquine and BAM8–22, consistent with the behavioral data. These results indicate that unidirectional cross-sensitization of histamine-independent itch-signaling pathways might occur at a peripheral site through PAR-2. PAR-2 expressed in pruriceptive nerve endings is a potential target to reduce sensitization associated with chronic itch.
PMCID: PMC3489980  PMID: 23000623
5.  B-type natriuretic peptide is neither itch-specific nor functions upstream of the GRP-GRPR signaling pathway 
Molecular Pain  2014;10:4.
A recent study by Mishra and Hoon identified B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) as an important peptide for itch transmission and proposed that BNP activates spinal natriuretic peptide receptor-A (NPRA) expressing neurons, which release gastrin releasing peptide (GRP) to activate GRP receptor (GRPR) expressing neurons to relay itch information from the periphery to the brain (Science 340:968–971, 2013). A central premise for the validity of this novel pathway is the absence of GRP in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. To this end, they showed that Grp mRNA in DRG neurons is either absent or barely detectable and claimed that BNP but not GRP is a major neurotransmitter for itch in pruriceptors. They showed that NPRA immunostaining is perfectly co-localized with Grp-eGFP in the spinal cord, and a few acute pain behaviors in Nppb -/- mice were tested. They claimed that BNP is an itch-selective peptide that acts as the first station of a dedicated neuronal pathway comprising a GRP-GRPR cascade for itch. However, our studies, along with the others, do not support their claims.
We were unable to reproduce the immunostaining of BNP and NPRA as shown by Mishra and Hoon. By contrast, we were able to detect Grp mRNA in DRGs using in situ hybridization and real time RT-PCR. We show that the expression pattern of Grp mRNA is comparable to that of GRP protein in DRGs. Pharmacological and genetic blockade of GRP-GRPR signaling does not significantly affect intrathecal BNP-induced scratching behavior. We show that BNP inhibits inflammatory pain and morphine analgesia.
Accumulating evidence demonstrates that GRP is a key neurotransmitter in pruriceptors for mediating histamine-independent itch. BNP-NPRA signaling is involved in both itch and pain and does not function upstream of the GRP-GRPR dedicated neuronal pathway. The site of BNP action in itch and pain and its relationship with GRP remain to be clarified.
PMCID: PMC3930899  PMID: 24438367
BNP; NPRA; GRP; GRPR; Itch; Pain; Spinal cord; DRG
6.  Chronic Pruritus: Clinics and Treatment 
Annals of Dermatology  2011;23(1):1-11.
Chronic pruritus, one of the main symptoms in dermatology, is often intractable and has a high impact on patient's quality of life. Beyond dermatologic disorders, chronic pruritus is associated with systemic, neurologic as well as psychologic diseases. The pathogenesis of acute and chronic (>6 weeks duration) pruritus is complex and involves in the skin a network of resident (e.g., sensory neurons) and transient inflammatory cells (e.g., lymphocytes). In the skin, several classes of histamine-sensitive or histamine-insensitve C-fibers are involved in itch transmission. Specific receptors have been discovered on cutaneous and spinal neurons to be exclusively involved in the processing of pruritic signals. Chronic pruritus is notoriously difficult to treat. Newer insights into the underlying pathogenesis of pruritus have enabled novel treatment approaches that target the pruritus-specific pathophysiological mechanism. For example, neurokinin-1 antagonists have been found to relieve chronic pruritus.
PMCID: PMC3119985  PMID: 21738356
Atopic dermatitis; Itch; Pathophysiology; Pruritus; Therapy
7.  Targeted treatment of pruritus - a look into the future 
Recent advances in pruritus research have elucidated mediators and neuronal pathways involved in itch transmission and this fast-emerging knowledge may possibly be translated into new therapies in the near future. In the skin and peripheral nerves, potential mediator and receptor therapeutic targets include the H4 histamine receptor, proteinase-activated receptor 2, serine proteases, Cathepsin S, peripheral mu- and kappa-opioid receptors, interleukin-31, transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 and 3, fatty acid amide hydrolase, nerve growth factor and its receptor, acetylcholine, and the Mas-related G-protein-coupled receptor. In the spinal cord, gastrin-related peptide and its receptor, as well as substance P and its receptor neurokinin receptor-1 serve as potential therapeutic targets. In the brain, reduction of itch perception and modulation of emotions may possibly be achieved through drugs acting on the anterior cingulate cortex. Clinically, management of pruritus should be instituted early and address the skin pathology, peripheral neuropathy, central sensitisation, and the cognito-affective aspects of the disease.
PMCID: PMC3125418  PMID: 21219293
Target; Itch; Pruritus; Management; therapy
8.  Physiological Function of Gastrin-Releasing Peptide and Neuromedin B Receptors in Regulating Itch Scratching Behavior in the Spinal Cord of Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67422.
Pruritus (itch) is a severe side effect associated with the use of drugs as well as hepatic and hematological disorders. Previous studies in rodents suggest that bombesin receptor subtypes i.e. receptors for gastrin-releasing peptide (GRPr) and neuromedin B (NMBr) differentially regulate itch scratching. However, to what degree spinal GRPr and NMBr regulate scratching evoked by intrathecally administered bombesin-related peptides is not known. The first aim of this study was to pharmacologically compare the dose-response curves for scratching induced by intrathecally administered bombesin-related peptides versus morphine, which is known to elicit itch in humans. The second aim was to determine if spinal GRPr and NMBr selectively or generally mediate scratching behavior. Mice received intrathecal injection of bombesin (0.01–0.3 nmol), GRP (0.01–0.3nmol), NMB (0.1–1nmol) or morphine (0.3–3 nmol) and were observed for one hour for scratching activity. Bombesin elicited most profound scratching over one hour followed by GRP and NMB, whereas morphine failed to evoke scratching response indicating the insensitivity of mouse models to intrathecal opioid-induced itch. Intrathecal pretreatment with GRPr antagonist RC-3095 (0.03–0.1 nmol) produced a parallel rightward shift in the dose response curve of GRP-induced scratching but not NMB-induced scratching. Similarly, PD168368 (1–3 nmol) only attenuated NMB but not GRP-induced scratching. Individual or co-administration of RC-3095 and PD168368 failed to alter bombesin-evoked scratching. A higher dose of RC-3095 (0.3 nmol) generally suppressed scratching induced by all three peptides but also compromised motor function in the rotarod test. Together, these data indicate that spinal GRPr and NMBr independently drive itch neurotransmission in mice and may not mediate bombesin-induced scratching. GRPr antagonists at functionally receptor-selective doses only block spinal GRP-elicited scratching but the suppression of scratching at higher doses is confounded by motor impairment.
PMCID: PMC3691251  PMID: 23826298
9.  A subpopulation of nociceptors specifically linked to itch 
Nature neuroscience  2012;16(2):174-182.
Itch-specific neurons have been sought for decades. The existence of such neurons is in doubt recently due to the observation that itch-mediating neurons also respond to painful stimuli. Here, we genetically labeled and manipulated MrgprA3+ neurons in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) and found that they exclusively innervate the epidermis of the skin and respond to multiple pruritogens. Ablation of MrgprA3+ neurons led to significant reductions in scratching evoked by multiple pruritogens and occurring spontaneously under chronic itch conditions whereas pain sensitivity remained intact. Importantly, mice with TRPV1 exclusively expressed in MrgprA3+ neurons exhibited only itch- and not pain behavior in response to capsaicin. Although MrgprA3+ neurons are sensitive to noxious heat, activation of TRPV1 in these neurons by noxious heat did not alter pain behavior. These data suggest that MrgprA3 defines a specific subpopulation of DRG neurons mediating itch. Our study opens new avenues for studying itch and developing anti-pruritic therapies.
PMCID: PMC3557753  PMID: 23263443
10.  Barrier-Restoring Therapies in Atopic Dermatitis: Current Approaches and Future Perspectives 
Atopic dermatitis is a multifactorial, chronic relapsing, inflammatory disease, characterized by xerosis, eczematous lesions, and pruritus. The latter usually leads to an “itch-scratch” cycle that may compromise the epidermal barrier. Skin barrier abnormalities in atopic dermatitis may result from mutations in the gene encoding for filaggrin, which plays an important role in the formation of cornified cytosol. Barrier abnormalities render the skin more permeable to irritants, allergens, and microorganisms. Treatment of atopic dermatitis must be directed to control the itching, suppress the inflammation, and restore the skin barrier. Emollients, both creams and ointments, improve the barrier function of stratum corneum by providing it with water and lipids. Studies on atopic dermatitis and barrier repair treatment show that adequate lipid replacement therapy reduces the inflammation and restores epidermal function. Efforts directed to develop immunomodulators that interfere with cytokine-induced skin barrier dysfunction, provide a promising strategy for treatment of atopic dermatitis. Moreover, an impressive proliferation of more than 80 clinical studies focusing on topical treatments in atopic dermatitis led to growing expectations for better therapies.
PMCID: PMC3432345  PMID: 22956938
11.  Itch Signaling in the Nervous System 
Physiology (Bethesda, Md.)  2011;26(4):286-292.
Itch is a major somatic sensation, along with pain, temperature and touch, detected and relayed by the somatosensory system. Itch can be an acute sensation, associated with mosquito bite, or a chronic condition, like atopic dermatitis (29, 59). The origins of the stimulus can be localized in the periphery or systemic, and associated with organ failure or cancer. Itch is also a perception originating in the brain. Itch is broadly characterized as either histamine-dependent (histaminergic) or histamine-independent (nonhistaminergic), both of which are relayed by subsets of C-fibers, and by the second-order neurons expressing gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) and spinothalamic track (STT) neurons in the spinal cord of rodents. Historically, itch research has been primarily limited to clinical and psychophysical studies, and to histamine-mediated mechanisms. In contrast, little is known about signaling mechanisms underlying nonhistaminergic itch, despite the fact that the majority of chronic itch are mediated by nonhistaminergic mechanisms. During the past few years, important progress has been made in understanding of molecular signaling of itch, largely due to the introduction of mouse genetics. In this review, we examine some of molecular mechanisms underlying itch sensation with an emphasis on recent studies in rodents.
PMCID: PMC3684411  PMID: 21841076
12.  Imiquimod enhances excitability of dorsal root ganglion neurons by inhibiting background (K2P) and voltage-gated (Kv1.1 and Kv1.2) potassium channels 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:2.
Imiquimod (IQ) is known as an agonist of Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) and is widely used to treat various infectious skin diseases. However, it causes severe itching sensation as its side effect. The precise mechanism of how IQ causes itching sensation is unknown. A recent report suggested a molecular target of IQ as TLR7 expressed in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. However, we recently proposed a TLR7-independent mechanism, in which the activation of TLR7 is not required for the action of IQ in DRG neurons. To resolve this controversy regarding the involvement of TLR7 and to address the exact molecular identity of itching sensation by IQ, we investigated the possible molecular target of IQ in DRG neurons.
When IQ was applied to DRG neurons, we observed an increase in action potential (AP) duration and membrane resistance both in wild type and TLR7-deficient mice. Based on these results, we tested whether the treatment of IQ has an effect on the activity of K+ channels, Kv1.1 and Kv1.2 (voltage-gated K+ channels) and TREK1 and TRAAK (K2P channels). IQ effectively reduced the currents mediated by both K+ channels in a dose-dependent manner, acting as an antagonist at TREK1 and TRAAK and as a partial antagonist at Kv1.1 and Kv1.2.
Our results demonstrate that IQ blocks the voltage-gated K+ channels to increase AP duration and K2P channels to increase membrane resistance, which are critical for the membrane excitability of DRG neurons. Therefore, we propose that IQ enhances the excitability of DRG neurons by blocking multiple potassium channels and causing pruritus.
PMCID: PMC3292985  PMID: 22233604
13.  VGLUT2-dependent Glutamate Release from Nociceptors Is Required to Sense Pain and Suppress Itch 
Neuron  2010;68(3):543-556.
Itch can be suppressed by painful stimuli, but the underlying neural basis is unknown. We generated conditional null mice in which VGLUT2-dependent synaptic glutamate release from mainly Nav1.8-expressing nociceptors was abolished. These mice showed deficits in pain behaviors including mechanical pain, heat pain, capsaicin-evoked pain, inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain. The pain deficits were accompanied by greatly enhanced itching, as suggested by i) sensitization of both histamine-dependent and histamine-independent itch pathways, and ii) development of spontaneous scratching and skin lesions. Strikingly, intradermal capsaicin injection promotes itch responses in these mutant mice, as opposed to pain responses in control littermates. Consequently, co-injection of capsaicin was no longer able to mask itch evoked by pruritogenic compounds. Our studies suggest that synaptic glutamate release from a group of peripheral nociceptors is required to sense pain and suppress itch. Elimination of VGLUT2 in these nociceptors creates a mouse model of chronic neurogenic itch.
PMCID: PMC2991105  PMID: 21040853
14.  The majority of dorsal spinal cord gastrin releasing peptide is synthesized locally whereas neuromedin B is highly expressed in pain- and itch-sensing somatosensory neurons 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:52.
Itch is one of the major somatosensory modalities. Some recent findings have proposed that gastrin releasing peptide (Grp) is expressed in a subset of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons and functions as a selective neurotransmitter for transferring itch information to spinal cord interneurons. However, expression data from public databases and earlier literatures indicate that Grp mRNA is only detected in dorsal spinal cord (dSC) whereas its family member neuromedin B (Nmb) is highly expressed in DRG neurons. These contradictory results argue that a thorough characterization of the expression of Grp and Nmb is warranted.
Grp mRNA is highly expressed in dSC but is barely detectable in DRGs of juvenile and adult mice. Anti-bombesin serum specifically recognizes Grp but not Nmb. Grp is present in a small number of small-diameter DRG neurons and in abundance in layers I and II of the spinal cord. The reduction of dSC Grp after dorsal root rhizotomy is significantly different from those of DRG derived markers but similar to that of a spinal cord neuronal marker. Double fluorescent in situ of Nmb and other molecular markers indicate that Nmb is highly and selectively expressed in nociceptive and itch-sensitive DRG neurons.
The majority of dSC Grp is synthesized locally in dorsal spinal cord neurons. On the other hand, Nmb is highly expressed in pain- and itch-sensing DRG neurons. Our findings provide direct anatomic evidence that Grp could function locally in the dorsal spinal cord in addition to its roles in DRG neurons and that Nmb has potential roles in nociceptive and itch-sensitive neurons. These results will improve our understanding about roles of Grp and Nmb in mediating itch sensation.
PMCID: PMC3495671  PMID: 22776446
Gastrin releasing peptide; Neuromedin B; Itch; Dorsal root ganglion; Spinal cord
15.  Chronic itch development in sensory neurons requires BRAF signaling pathways 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2013;123(11):4769-4780.
Chronic itch, or pruritus, is associated with a wide range of skin abnormalities. The mechanisms responsible for chronic itch induction and persistence remain unclear. We developed a mouse model in which a constitutively active form of the serine/threonine kinase BRAF was expressed in neurons gated by the sodium channel Nav1.8 (BRAFNav1.8 mice). We found that constitutive BRAF pathway activation in BRAFNav1.8 mice results in ectopic and enhanced expression of a cohort of itch-sensing genes, including gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and MAS-related GPCR member A3 (MRGPRA3), in nociceptors expressing transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1). BRAFNav1.8 mice showed de novo neuronal responsiveness to pruritogens, enhanced pruriceptor excitability, and heightened evoked and spontaneous scratching behavior. GRP receptor expression was increased in the spinal cord, indicating augmented coding capacity for itch subsequent to amplified pruriceptive inputs. Enhanced GRP expression and sustained ERK phosphorylation were observed in sensory neurons of mice with allergic contact dermatitis– or dry skin–elicited itch; however, spinal ERK activation was not required for maintaining central sensitization of itch. Inhibition of either BRAF or GRP signaling attenuated itch sensation in chronic itch mouse models. These data uncover RAF/MEK/ERK signaling as a key regulator that confers a subset of nociceptors with pruriceptive properties to initiate and maintain long-lasting itch sensation.
PMCID: PMC3809799  PMID: 24216512
16.  Contagious Itch in Humans. A Study of Visual “Transmission” of Itch in Atopic Dermatitis and Healthy Subjects 
The British journal of dermatology  2011;164(6):1299-1303.
Anecdotal evidence suggests “contagious” itch occurs in daily life when we see other people itch and scratch. This phenomenon has not been systematically studied previously, and factors which can amplify itch perception were unknown. We investigated whether exposure to visual cues of itch can induce or intensify itch in healthy and atopic dermatitis subjects. Participants received histamine or a saline control delivered to the forearm and were asked to watch short video clips of people scratching. Spontaneous scratching induced by visual cues was monitored and analyzed. Atopic dermatitis patients reported a higher itch intensity and scratched more frequently while watching itch videos, even in the presence of mock itch stimuli. Human susceptibility to develop itch when exposed to visual cues is confirmed and it appears amplified in atopic dermatitis sufferers. These findings suggest that interpersonal social cues can dramatically alter the subjective sensory experience of itch.
PMCID: PMC3110738  PMID: 21410682
17.  Absence of histamine-induced itch in the African naked mole-rat and "rescue" by Substance P 
Molecular Pain  2010;6:29.
Recent research has proposed a pathway in which sensory neurons expressing the capsaicin activated ion channel TRPV1 are required for histamine-induced itch and subsequent scratching behavior. We examined histamine-induced itch in the African naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) and found that although naked mole-rats display innate scratching behavior, histamine was unable to evoke increased scratching as is observed in most mouse strains. Using calcium imaging, we examined the histamine sensitivity of naked mole-rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons and identified a population of small diameter neurons activated by histamine, the majority of which are also capsaicin-sensitive. This suggested that naked mole-rat sensory neurons are activated by histamine, but that spinal dorsal horn processing of sensory information is not the same as in other rodents. We have previously shown that naked mole-rats naturally lack substance P (SP) in cutaneous C-fibers, but that the neurokinin-1 receptor is expressed in the superficial spinal cord. This led us to investigate if SP deficiency plays a role in the lack of histamine-induced scratching in this species. After intrathecal administration of SP into the spinal cord we observed robust scratching behavior in response to histamine injection. Our data therefore support a model in which TRPV1-expressing sensory neurons are important for histamine-induced itch. In addition, we demonstrate a requirement for active, SP-induced post-synaptic drive to enable histamine sensitive afferents to drive itch-related behavior in the naked mole-rat. These results illustrate that it is altered dorsal horn connectivity of nociceptors that underlies the lack of itch and pain-related behavior in the naked mole-rat.
PMCID: PMC2886013  PMID: 20497578
18.  Toll-like receptor 2 contributes to chemokine gene expression and macrophage infiltration in the dorsal root ganglia after peripheral nerve injury 
Molecular Pain  2011;7:74.
We have previously reported that nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain is attenuated in toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) knock-out mice. In these mice, inflammatory gene expression and spinal cord microglia actvation is compromised, whereas the effects in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) have not been tested. In this study, we investigated the role of TLR2 in inflammatory responses in the DRG after peripheral nerve injury.
L5 spinal nerve transection injury induced the expression of macrophage-attracting chemokines such as CCL2/MCP-1 and CCL3/MIP-1 and subsequent macrophage infiltration in the DRG of wild-type mice. In TLR2 knock-out mice, however, the induction of chemokine expression and macrophage infiltration following nerve injury were markedly reduced. Similarly, the induction of IL-1β and TNF-α expression in the DRG by spinal nerve injury was ameliorated in TLR2 knock-out mice. The reduced inflammatory response in the DRG was accompanied by attenuation of nerve injury-induced spontaneous pain hypersensitivity in TLR2 knock-out mice.
Our data show that TLR2 contributes to nerve injury-induced proinflammatory chemokine/cytokine gene expression and macrophage infiltration in the DRG, which may have relevance in the reduced pain hypersensitivity in TLR2 knock-out mice after spinal nerve injury.
PMCID: PMC3192680  PMID: 21951975
19.  Genetic enhancement of behavioral itch responses in mice lacking phosphoinositide 3-kinase-γ (PI3Kγ) 
Molecular Pain  2011;7:96.
Phosphoinositide 3-kinases (PI3Ks) are important for synaptic plasticity and various brain functions. The only class IB isoform of PI3K, PI3Kγ, has received the most attention due to its unique roles in synaptic plasticity and cognition. However, the potential role of PI3Kγ in sensory transmission, such as pain and itch has not been examined. In this study, we present the evidence for the first time, that genetic deletion of PI3Kγ enhanced scratching behaviours in histamine-dependent and protease-activated receptor 2 (PAR-2)-dependent itch. In contrast, PI3Kγ-deficient mice did not exhibit enhanced scratching in chloroquine-induced itch, suggesting that PI3Kγ selectively contributes to certain types of behavioal itch response. Furthermore, PI3Kγ-deficient mice exhibited normal acute nociceptive responses to thermal and mechanical noxious stimuli. Behavioral licking responses to intraplantar injections of formalin and mechanical allodynia in a chronic inflammatory pain model (CFA) were also not affected by PI3Kγ gene deletion. Our findings indicate that PI3Kγ selectively contributes to behavioral itching induced by histamine and PAR-2 agonist, but not chloroquine agonist.
PMCID: PMC3261823  PMID: 22168443
20.  Tumor necrosis factor α sensitizes spinal cord TRPV1 receptors to the endogenous agonist N-oleoyldopamine 
Modulation of synaptic transmission in the spinal cord dorsal horn is thought to be involved in the development and maintenance of different pathological pain states. The proinflamatory cytokine, tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα), is an established pain modulator in both the peripheral and the central nervous system. Up-regulation of TNFα and its receptors (TNFR) in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells and in the spinal cord has been shown to play an important role in neuropathic and inflammatory pain conditions. Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) receptors are known as molecular integrators of nociceptive stimuli in the periphery, but their role on the spinal endings of nociceptive DRG neurons is unclear. The endogenous TRPV1 receptor agonist N-oleoyldopamine (OLDA) was shown previously to activate spinal TRPV1 receptors. In our experiments the possible influence of TNFα on presynaptic spinal cord TRPV1 receptor function was investigated. Using the patch-clamp technique, miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) were recorded in superficial dorsal horn neurons in acute slices after incubation with 60 nM TNFα. A population of dorsal horn neurons with capsaicin sensitive primary afferent input recorded after the TNFα pretreatment had a basal mEPSC frequency of 1.35 ± 0.20 Hz (n = 13), which was significantly higher when compared to a similar population of neurons in control slices (0.76 ± 0.08 Hz; n = 53; P < 0.01). In control slices application of a low concentration of OLDA (0.2 uM) did not evoke any change in mEPSC frequency. After incubation with TNFα, OLDA (0.2 uM) application to slices induced a significant increase in mEPSC frequency (155.5 ± 17.5%; P < 0.001; n = 10). Our results indicate that TNFα may have a significant impact on nociceptive signaling at the spinal cord level that could be mediated by increased responsiveness of presynaptic TRPV1 receptors to endogenous agonists. This could be of major importance, especially during pathological conditions, when increased levels of TNFα and TNFR are present in the spinal cord.
PMCID: PMC2936303  PMID: 20796308
21.  Intrathecal siRNA against Toll-like receptor 4 reduces nociception in a rat model of neuropathic pain 
Background: Neuropathic pain is characterized by hyperalgesia, allodynia and spontaneous pain. It often occurs as a result of injury to peripheral nerves, dorsal root ganglions (DRG), spinal cord, or brain. Recent studies have suggested that Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) might play a role in neuropathic pain. Methodology/Principal Findings: In this study, we investigated the role of TLR4 in a rat chronic constriction injury (CCI) model and explored the feasibility of treating neuropathic pain by inhibiting TLR4. Our results demonstrated that intrathecal siRNA-mediated suppression of TLR4 attenuated CCI-induced mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia through inhibiting the activation of NF-κB p65 and production of proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., TNF-α and IL-1β). Conclusions/Significance: These findings suggest that suppression of TLR4 mediated by intrathecally administered siRNA may be a new strategy for the treatment of neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC2920570  PMID: 20714435
Toll-like receptor 4; neuropathic pain; NF-κB; RNA interference; IL-1β; TNF-α.
22.  Intractable Pruritus After Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury 
This report describes a young woman with incomplete traumatic cervical spinal cord injury and intractable pruritus involving her dorsal forearm.
Case report.
Anatomic distribution of the pruritus corresponded to the dermatomal distribution of her level of spinal cord injury and vertebral fusion. Symptoms were attributed to the spinal cord injury and possible cervical root injury. Pruritus was refractory to all treatments, including topical lidocaine, gabapentin, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, intravenous Bier block, stellate ganglion block, and acupuncture.
Further understanding of neuropathic pruritus is needed. Diagnostic workup of intractable pruritus should include advanced imaging to detect ongoing nerve root compression. If diagnostic studies suggest radiculopathy, epidural steroid injection should be considered. Because the autonomic nervous system may be involved in complex chronic pain or pruritic syndromes, sympatholysis via such techniques as stellate ganglion block might be effective.
PMCID: PMC2830685  PMID: 19777867
Tetraplegia; Brachioradial pruritus; Pain, neuropathic; Pruritus, neuropathic; Spinal cord injuries; Gabapentin; Lidocaine; Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation; Bier block, intravenous; Stellate ganglion block; Ropivacaine
23.  Pirt, a TRPV1 Modulator, Is Required for Histamine-Dependent and -Independent Itch 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20559.
Itch, or pruritus, is an important clinical problem whose molecular basis has yet to be understood. Recent work has begun to identify genes that contribute to detecting itch at the molecular level. Here we show that Pirt, known to play a vital part in sensing pain through modulation of the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel, is also necessary for proper itch sensation. Pirt−/− mice exhibit deficits in cellular and behavioral responses to various itch-inducing compounds, or pruritogens. Pirt contributes to both histaminergic and nonhistaminergic itch and, crucially, is involved in forms of itch that are both TRPV1-dependent and -independent. Our findings demonstrate that the function of Pirt extends beyond nociception via TRPV1 regulation to its role as a critical component in several itch signaling pathways.
PMCID: PMC3105090  PMID: 21655234
24.  Modulation of spinal cord synaptic activity by tumor necrosis factor α in a model of peripheral neuropathy 
The cytokine tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) is an established pain modulator in both the peripheral and central nervous systems. Modulation of nociceptive synaptic transmission in the spinal cord dorsal horn (DH) is thought to be involved in the development and maintenance of several pathological pain states. Increased levels of TNFα and its receptors (TNFR) in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells and in the spinal cord DH have been shown to play an essential role in neuropathic pain processing. In the present experiments the effect of TNFα incubation on modulation of primary afferent synaptic activity was investigated in a model of peripheral neuropathy.
Spontaneous and miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSC and mEPSCs) were recorded in superficial DH neurons in acute spinal cord slices prepared from animals 5 days after sciatic nerve transection and in controls.
In slices after axotomy the sEPSC frequency was 2.8 ± 0.8 Hz, while neurons recorded from slices after TNFα incubation had significantly higher sEPSC frequency (7.9 ± 2.2 Hz). The effect of TNFα treatment was smaller in the slices from the control animals, where sEPSC frequency was 1.2 ± 0.2 Hz in slices without and 2.0 ± 0.5 Hz with TNFα incubation. Tetrodotoxin (TTX) application in slices from axotomized animals and after TNFα incubation decreased the mEPSC frequency to only 37.4 ± 6.9% of the sEPSC frequency. This decrease was significantly higher than in the slices without the TNFα treatment (64.4 ± 6.4%). TTX application in the control slices reduced the sEPSC frequency to about 80% in both TNFα untreated and treated slices. Application of low concentration TRPV1 receptors endogenous agonist N-oleoyldopamine (OLDA, 0.2 μM) in slices after axotomy induced a significant increase in mEPSC frequency (175.9 ± 17.3%), similar to the group with TNFα pretreatment (158.1 ± 19.5%).
Our results indicate that TNFα may enhance spontaneous transmitter release from primary afferent fibres in the spinal cord DH by modulation of TTX-sensitive sodium channels following sciatic nerve transection. This nerve injury also leads to enhanced sensitivity of presynaptic TRPV1 receptors to endogenous agonist. Modulation of presynaptic receptor activity on primary sensory terminals by TNFα may play an important role in neuropathic pain development.
PMCID: PMC3264538  PMID: 22189061
axotomy; sciatic nerve; dorsal horn; synaptic transmission; TRPV1; sodium channels
25.  Toll-like Receptor-7 Mediates Pruritus 
Nature neuroscience  2010;13(12):1460-1462.
Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are typically expressed in immune cells to regulate innate immunity. Here we report that functional TLR7 is expressed in C-fiber primary sensory neurons and important for inducing itch (pruritis) but not necessary for eliciting mechanical, thermal, inflammatory and neuropathic pain in mice. Thus, we have uncovered TLR7 as a novel itch mediator and a potential therapeutic target for anti-itch treatment in skin disease conditions.
PMCID: PMC2991508  PMID: 21037581

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