Spinal IL-33/ST2 signaling mediates chronic itch in mice through the astrocytic JAK2-STAT3 cascade

Glia. 2019 Sep;67(9):1680-1693. doi: 10.1002/glia.23639. Epub 2019 May 14.


Interleukin-33 (IL-33) and its receptor ST2 contribute to spinal glial activation and chronic pain. A recent study showed that peripheral IL-33 plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of chronic itch induced by poison ivy. However, how IL-33/ST2 signaling in the spinal cord potentially mediates chronic itch remains elusive. Here, we determined that St2-/- substantially reduced scratching behaviors in 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene (DNFB)-induced allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) as well as acetone and diethylether followed by water-induced dry skin in mice. Intrathecal administration of the neutralizing anti-ST2 or anti-IL-33 antibody remarkably decreased the scratching response in DNFB-induced ACD mice. Expression of spinal IL-33 and ST2 significantly increased in ACD mice, as evidenced by increased mRNA and protein levels. Immunofluorescence and in situ hybridization demonstrated that increased expression of spinal IL-33 was predominant in oligodendrocytes and astrocytes, whereas ST2 was mainly expressed in astrocytes. Further studies showed that in ACD mice, the activation of astrocytes and increased phosphorylation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) were markedly attenuated by St2-/- . Intrathecal injection of Janus Kinase 2 Inhibitor AG490 significantly alleviated scratching behaviors in ACD mice. rIL-33 pretreatment exacerbated gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP)-evoked scratching behaviors. This increased gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) expression was abolished by St2-/- . Tnf-α upregulation was suppressed by St2-/- . Our results indicate that the spinal IL-33/ST2 signaling pathway contributes to chronic itch via astrocytic JAK2-STAT3 cascade activation, promoting TNF-α release to regulate the GRP/GRPR signaling-related itch response. Thus, these findings provide a potential therapeutic option for treating chronic pruritus.

Keywords: IL-33; ST2; STAT3; astrocytes; chronic itch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Astrocytes / pathology
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / metabolism*
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gastrin-Releasing Peptide / metabolism
  • Interleukin-1 Receptor-Like 1 Protein / genetics
  • Interleukin-1 Receptor-Like 1 Protein / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-33 / metabolism*
  • Janus Kinase 2 / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglia / pathology
  • Pruritus / metabolism*
  • Pruritus / pathology
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord / pathology


  • Il1rl1 protein, mouse
  • Il33 protein, mouse
  • Interleukin-1 Receptor-Like 1 Protein
  • Interleukin-33
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor
  • Stat3 protein, mouse
  • Gastrin-Releasing Peptide
  • Jak2 protein, mouse
  • Janus Kinase 2