Effects of acute stressors on itch- and pain-related behaviors in rats

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SummaryCertain intense acute stressors, such as cold-water swim, suppress facial itch- and pain-related behavioral responses simultaneously in rats. This indicates that the endogenous antinociceptive system activated by acute stressors can also exert an antipruritic effect.Many acute stressors reduce pain, a phenomenon called stress-induced antinociception (SIA). Stress also is associated with increased scratching in chronic itch conditions. We investigated effects of acute stressors on facial itch and pain using a recently introduced rat model. Under baseline (no-swim) conditions, intradermal (id) cheek microinjection of the pruritogen serotonin (5-HT) selectively elicited hindlimb scratch bouts, whereas the algogen mustard oil (allyl isothiocyanate [AITC]) selectively elicited ipsilateral forepaw swipes, directed to the cheek injection site. To test effects of swim stress, rats received id cheek microinjection of 5-HT (1%), AITC (10%), or vehicle, and were then subjected to one of the following swim conditions: (1) weak SIA (W-SIA), (2) naltrexone-sensitive SIA (intermediate or I-SIA), or (3) naltrexone-insensitive SIA (strong or S-SIA). After the swim, we recorded the number of hindlimb scratch bouts and forelimb swipes directed to the cheek injection site, as well as facial grooming by both forepaws. Under S-SIA, AITC-evoked swiping and 5-HT–evoked scratching were both reduced. I-SIA reduced AITC-evoked swiping with no effect on 5-HT–evoked scratching. Facial grooming immediately post-swim was suppressed by S-SIA, but not I- or W-SIA. W-SIA tended to equalize scratching and swiping elicited by 5-HT and AITC compared with no-swim controls, suggesting altered itch and pain processing. Exercise (wheel-running), novelty, cold exposure, and fear (shaker table), key components of swim stress, differentially affected tail-flick latencies and 5-HT–evoked swiping and scratching behavior. Thus, itch and pain can be simultaneously suppressed by a combination of acute stress-related factors via an opioid-independent mechanism.

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