Activation of superficial dorsal horn neurons in the mouse by a PAR-2 agonist and 5-HT: Potential role in itch

Tasuku Akiyama, Austin W. Merrill, Mirela Lodi Carstens, Earl Carstens

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71 Scopus citations


Itch, an unpleasant sensation associated with the desire to scratch, is symptomatic of dermatologie and systemic disorders that often resist antihistamine treatment. Histamine-independent itch mediators include serotonin (5-HT) and agonists of the protease-activated receptor-2 (PAR-2). We used behavior, Fos immunohistochemistry, and electrophysiology to investigate if these mediators activate spinal dorsal horn neurons in a manner consistent with itch. Intradermal (id) injection of the PAR-2 agonist SLIGRL-NH 2 in the rostral back evoked bouts of directed hindlimb scratches over 20-30 min. Hindpaw injection of SLIGRL-NH 2 produced Fos staining in superficial dorsal horn which was then targeted for single-unit recording. Small id microinjections of SLIGRL-NH 2 or 5-HT identified responsive single units in the superficial dorsal horn of mice anesthetized with pentobarbital. Thirty-eight units characterized as wide dynamic range, nociceptive specific, or mechanically insensitive exhibited significantly increased firing after id SLIGRL-NH 2 for 9 min, to partial (25%) tachyphylaxis with repeated injection. A majority additionally responded to 5-HT (70%), mustard oil (79%), and capsaicin (71%). Seven units isolated with the 5-HT search stimulus exhibited significant and prolonged responses to 5-HT with tachyphylaxis to repeated injections. The majority also responded to SLIGRL-NH 2, mustard oil, and capsaicin. The prolonged responses of superficial dorsal horn neurons to SLIGRL-NH 2 and 5-HT suggest a role in signaling itch. However, their responsiveness to algogens is inconsistent with itch specificity. Alternatively, such neurons may signal itch, whereas noxious stimulus levels recruit these and a larger population of pruritogen-insensitive cells to signal pain which masks or occludes the itch signal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6691-6699
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 20 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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