Atopic dermatitis is a skin disorder caused by skin dryness and barrier dysfunction, resulting in skin inflammation and chronic itch (or pruritus). The pathogenesis of atopic dermatitis is thought to be initiated by a lowering of the itch threshold due to dry skin. This lowering of the itch threshold is at least partially due to the increase in intraepidermal nerve fibers and sensitization of sensory nerves by interleukin (IL)-33 produced and secreted by keratinocytes. Such skin is easily prone to itch due to mechanical stimuli, such as rubbing of clothing and chemical stimuli from itch mediators. In patients with atopic dermatitis, once itch occurs, further itch is induced by scratching, and the associated scratching breaks down the skin barrier. Disruption of the skin barrier allows entry into the epidermis of external foreign substances, such as allergens derived from house dust mites, leading to an increased induction of type 2 inflammatory responses. As a result, type 2 cytokines IL-4, IL-13, and IL-31 are mainly secreted by Th2 cells, and their action on sensory nerve fibers causes further itch sensitization. These sequences of events are thought to occur simultaneously in patients with atopic dermatitis, leading to a vicious itch-scratch cycle. This vicious cycle becomes a negative spiral that leads to disease burden. Therefore, controlling itch is essential for the treatment of atopic dermatitis. In this review, we summarize and discuss advances in the mechanisms of peripheral itch sensitization in atopic dermatitis, focusing on skin barrier-neuro-immune triadic connectivity.
Keywords: Atopic dermatitis; Cytokines; Itch sensitization; Opioids; Sensory neurons.
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