They were able to turn off the urge in mice while leaving the animals’ other senses, such as touch and temperature, intact.
It is hoped that a deeper understanding of itching could eventually lead to therapies for patients with chronic itching.
The study was published in the journal Science.
The team at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the US National Institutes of Health, bred mice that were unable to produce a gene called NPPB (natriuretic peptide B). It is a small signaling molecule that allows brain cells to communicate with each other.
Mice without the molecule looked and acted like other mice, except “when we exposed the mice to several itch-inducing substances, it was amazing to watch, nothing happened, the mice wouldn’t scratch.”
Injections of NPPB into a mouse’s spinal cord made them scratch.