Dorsal horn neurons expressing NK-1 receptors mediate scratching in rats

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Itch is thought to be signaled by pruritogen-responsive neurons in the superficial spinal dorsal horn. Many neurons here express the substance P NK-1 receptor. We investigated whether neurotoxic destruction of spinal NK-1-expressing neurons affected itch-related scratching behavior. Rats received intracisternal substance P conjugated to saporin (SP-SAP), or saporin (SAP) only (controls), and were subsequently tested for scratching behavior elicited by intradermal 5-hydroxytryptamine. SAP controls exhibited dose-related hindlimb scratching, which was significantly attenuated in SP-SAP-treated rats. There was a virtual absence of NK-1 immunoreactive neurons in superficial laminae of the upper cervical and medullary dorsal horn in SP-SAP-treated rats. These results indicate that superficial dorsal horn neurons expressing NK-1 receptors play a key role in spinal itch transmission.

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