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Periostin activates itch response

Photo by: Orrling and Tomer S via Wikimedia Commons

New research suggests that a protein commonly expressed in the skin—periostin—can directly activate neurons associated with the sensation of itch. These findings may open new avenues for research into itch management.

Published in Cell Reports (Apr. 7, 2020; 31:107472), the paper identified how periostin, which is abundantly expressed in the skin of individuals with atopic dermatitis and correlates with both severity and chronicity of the condition, interacts with the receptor protein αvβ3, which is expressed on sensory neurons in skin, to turn on the itch response. In a chemically-induced mouse model of atopic dermatitis, the research team found that exposure to common allergens such as dust mites increased periostin production in skin, exacerbating the itch response. However, when the researchers “turned off” the receptor protein, itch was significantly reduced.

As well, they exposed other animal models to recombinant mouse periostin, and observed itch-scratching behaviour within 15 minutes of exposure.

“Periostin and its receptor connect the skin directly to the central nervous system,” said the study’s lead author, Santosh Mishra, PhD, in a press release. “We have identified the first junction in the itch pathway associated with eczema. If we can break that connection, we can relieve the itch.”

Dr. Mishra is an assistant professor of neuroscience at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.

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