Prepare to scratch while reading this blog post. A lot.
Today, scientists at the National Institutes of Health announced that they’ve discovered a small molecule released in the spinal cord that makes us itch. The pesky molecule, called natriuretic polypeptide b (Nppb), triggers a process later experienced in the brain as the sensation of itchiness. According to an NIH press release, scientists learned during a study of mice that Nppb works its irritating magic by plugging into a specific nerve cell in the spinal cord, which sends the signal onward through the central nervous system. When Nppb or its nerve cell was removed, mice stopped scratching at a broad array of itch-inducing substances. The signal wasn’t going through.
Because the nervous systems of mice and humans are similar, the scientists say people also likely have this same itch trigger. If correct, this start switch would provide a natural place to look for unique molecules that can be targeted with drugs to turn off the sensation more efficiently in the millions of people with chronic itch conditions, such eczema and psoriasis.