BNP facilitates NMB-encoded histaminergic itch via NPRC-NMBR crosstalk

Elife. 2021 Dec 17;10:e71689. doi: 10.7554/eLife.71689.


Histamine-dependent and -independent itch is conveyed by parallel peripheral neural pathways that express gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and neuromedin B (NMB), respectively, to the spinal cord of mice. B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) has been proposed to transmit both types of itch via its receptor NPRA encoded by Npr1. However, BNP also binds to its cognate receptor, NPRC encoded by Npr3 with equal potency. Moreover, natriuretic peptides (NP) signal through the Gi-couped inhibitory cGMP pathway that is supposed to inhibit neuronal activity, raising the question of how BNP may transmit itch information. Here, we report that Npr3 expression in laminae I-II of the dorsal horn partially overlaps with NMB receptor (NMBR) that transmits histaminergic itch via Gq-couped PLCβ-Ca2+ signaling pathway. Functional studies indicate that NPRC is required for itch evoked by histamine but not chloroquine (CQ), a nonhistaminergic pruritogen. Importantly, BNP significantly facilitates scratching behaviors mediated by NMB, but not GRP. Consistently, BNP evoked Ca2+ responses in NMBR/NPRC HEK 293 cells and NMBR/NPRC dorsal horn neurons. These results reveal a previously unknown mechanism by which BNP facilitates NMB-encoded itch through a novel NPRC-NMBR cross-signaling in mice. Our studies uncover distinct modes of action for neuropeptides in transmission and modulation of itch in mice.

Keywords: BNP; GRP; NPRA; NPRC; itch; mouse; neuroscience; spinal cord.

Plain language summary

An itch is a common sensation that makes us want to scratch. Most short-term itches are caused by histamine, a chemical that is released by immune cells following an infection or in response to an allergic reaction. Chronic itching, on the other hand, is not usually triggered by histamine, and is typically the result of neurological or skin disorders, such as atopic dermatitis. The sensation of itching is generated by signals that travel from the skin to nerve cells in the spinal cord. Studies in mice have shown that the neuropeptides responsible for delivering these signals differ depending on whether or not the itch involves histamine: GRPs (short for gastrin-releasing proteins) convey histamine-independent itches, while NMBs (short for neuromedin B) convey histamine-dependent itches. It has been proposed that another neuropeptide called BNP (short for B-type natriuretic peptide) is able to transmit both types of itch signals to the spinal cord. But it remains unclear how this signaling molecule is able to do this. To investigate, Meng, Liu, Liu, Liu et al. carried out a combination of behavioral, molecular and pharmacological experiments in mice and nerve cells cultured in a laboratory. The experiments showed that BNP alone cannot transmit the sensation of itching, but it can boost itching signals that are triggered by histamine. It is widely believed that BNP activates a receptor protein called NPRA. However, Meng et al. found that the BNP actually binds to another protein which alters the function of the receptor activated by NMBs. These findings suggest that BNP modulates rather than initiates histamine-dependent itching by enhancing the interaction between NMBs and their receptor. Understanding how itch signals travel from the skin to neurons in the spinal cord is crucial for designing new treatments for chronic itching. The work by Meng et al. suggests that treatments targeting NPRA, which was thought to be a key itch receptor, may not be effective against chronic itching, and that other drug targets need to be explored.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Histamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Natriuretic Peptide, Brain / genetics*
  • Natriuretic Peptide, Brain / metabolism
  • Neurokinin B / analogs & derivatives*
  • Neurokinin B / genetics
  • Neurokinin B / metabolism
  • Pruritus / genetics*
  • Pruritus / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Atrial Natriuretic Factor / genetics*
  • Receptors, Atrial Natriuretic Factor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism


  • Natriuretic Peptide, Brain
  • Histamine
  • Neurokinin B
  • neuromedin B
  • Receptors, Atrial Natriuretic Factor
  • atrial natriuretic factor receptor A
  • atrial natriuretic factor receptor C