Hebrew University
Hebrew UniversityIsrael news photo: Hebrew Univ.

Researchers at Hebrew University, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have figured out which neurons transmit the itchy message that prompts a person to start scratching.

The study was conducted by a group led by Dr. Alex Binshtok at HU’s Department of Medical Neurbiology at the Institute of Medical Research Israel-Canada, and the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, and Clifford Woolf’s group in the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The findings – which identified the presence of functionally distinct sets of neurons that detect and transmit itch-generating stimuli – were recently published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers, who included students Sagi Gudes, Felix Blasi, David Roberson and Jared Sprague, also found they could selectively target and block the itch-generating neurons while they were active.

Such results can lead to the development of new treatments for itchiness not induced by a histamine (non-histaminergic itch) – such as dry skin itch, eczema, and allergic dermatitis.

Histaminergic itch is triggered as an inflammatory immune response to foreign agents, as happens when one is affected by an attack of hay fever.