Gate control of mechanical itch by a subpopulation of spinal cord interneurons

Science. 2015 Oct 30;350(6260):550-4. doi: 10.1126/science.aac8653.


Light mechanical stimulation of hairy skin can induce a form of itch known as mechanical itch. This itch sensation is normally suppressed by inputs from mechanoreceptors; however, in many forms of chronic itch, including alloknesis, this gating mechanism is lost. Here we demonstrate that a population of spinal inhibitory interneurons that are defined by the expression of neuropeptide Y::Cre (NPY::Cre) act to gate mechanical itch. Mice in which dorsal NPY::Cre-derived neurons are selectively ablated or silenced develop mechanical itch without an increase in sensitivity to chemical itch or pain. This chronic itch state is histamine-independent and is transmitted independently of neurons that express the gastrin-releasing peptide receptor. Thus, our studies reveal a dedicated spinal cord inhibitory pathway that gates the transmission of mechanical itch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Hair / physiology
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / genetics
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neural Inhibition*
  • Neuropeptide Y / genetics
  • Neuropeptide Y / physiology
  • Pruritus / physiopathology*
  • Skin / innervation
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Neuropeptide Y