July 27, 2007 -- Scientists have found the first gene involved in itching.
The gene, called GRPR, may make a good target for new drugs to treat pruritis (itchy skin), note researchers Yan-Gang Sun, PhD, and Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD.
Sun and Chen work at the medical school of Washington University in St. Louis. They studied the GRPR gene in mice.
Some of the mice had a normal GRPR gene. For comparison, other mice had an inactive GRPR gene.
When the researchers exposed the mice to itchy chemicals, the mice with the normal GRPR gene scratched themselves much more vigorously than the mice with an inactive GRPR gene.
The mice with the inactive GRPR gene still scratched themselves a bit when exposed to the itchy substances. That suggests that other genes are also involved in itching, note Sun and Chen.
All of the mice responded similarly to pain, regardless of their GRPR gene status.
Based on that finding, the researchers suggest that it may be possible to make anti-itching drugs that target the GRPR gene without curbing pain sensations.
The findings appear in the advance online edition of the journal Nature.