Topography of itch: evidence of distinct coding for pruriception in the trigeminal nerve

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Abstract

Introduction:

Little is known about the topographical distribution of pruriception (in particular for nonhistaminergic itch), although conditions with chronic itch frequently occur in distinct anatomic and often bilateral patterns. This study aimed to investigate regional differences in the sensitivity to itch stimuli by assessing the intensity of itch, pain, and cutaneous neurogenic flare evoked by histamine and cowhage in different anatomic regions in 20 healthy volunteers.

Methods:

Itch was induced by 1% histamine applied with a prick lancet or by insertion of 25±5 cowhage spicules in 4 regions: volar/dorsal forearm, lower back, and chin. The duration and intensity of itch and pain following each pruritic stimulus were measured by a continuous visual analogue scale (VAS0-100). Sensitivity to touch-evoked itch was assessed by von Frey filaments and cutaneous flare was quantified by full-field laser perfusion imaging.

Results:

Peak itch intensity was lower at the chin (19.4±3.6) compared with other areas (mean of 3 locations; 41.3±4.4), independently of whether histamine or cowhage was applied (P<0.01). Baseline sensitivity to touch-evoked itch was higher on the chin (P<0.01), but here hyperknesis did not develop in contrast to other areas (P<0.05). Cutaneous flare was more intense but had a smaller dispersion at the chin, compared with other areas (P<0.01).

Discussion:

In conclusion, sensitivity to histaminergic and non-histaminergic itch diverges considerably between body regions. Lower density of pruriceptive CMH and CMI-neurons or distinct neuronal substrates for itch in the mandibular part of the trigeminal area may explain the observed reduced itch and vasomotor responses.

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