Itching is different from Pain

Researchers have found the source for itchy sensations in the human body.

This research has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.


Researchers have found certain nerve cells involved in the itchy sensations only leading to receptors that are not able to detect painful sensations. This research has cleared the debate whether itchiness is different from pain or not.

Scientists have used genetically engineered mice to identify the cells involved in itching. The nerve cells of those mice were enabled to glow fluorescent green while firing. The mice were than exposed to the irritating compounds such as histamine and researchers observed the neurons that fired as a result of those irritations. When the researchers removed the nerves that lit up, they found that the mice observe less itchiness. For further confirmation, the researchers activated the neurons specifically involved in the itchiness in the faces of the mice. They found that the mice used their back paws to remove itching on the faces. Mice usually use their front legs in the case of pain.

Researchers have found that those itching related neurons are present inside the spine, near the spinal cord, and only go to the locations within the skin that is the reason for the itching sensations only in the skin and not inside the body.

This research is important as it may help to develop better anti-itching medications. “Our study opens new avenues for studying itch and developing anti-pruritic therapies”, researchers wrote.


Han, L., Ma, C., Liu, Q., Weng, H., Cui, Y., Tang, Z., Kim, Y., Nie, H., Qu, L., Patel, K., Li, Z., McNeil, B., He, S., Guan, Y., Xiao, B., LaMotte, R., & Dong, X. (2012). A subpopulation of nociceptors specifically linked to itch Nature Neuroscience DOI: 10.1038/nn.3289

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