Somatostatin: a key factor in the transmission of itch and pain

2018

Challenge

Although individuals commonly experience the feelings of itch and pain, the method by which these feelings are transmitted by sensory neurons in the skin, through the spinal cord, and into the brain is poorly understood. 

Advance

IRP researchers, led by Mark A. Hoon, Ph.D., used traditional genetic approaches and cutting-edge genetic techniques such as optogenetics — an approach that allows scientists to control a neuron’s activity with light ­— to examine the role of the neuronal molecule somatostatin in itch and pain. As a result, the team discovered a new circuit in the spinal cord where somatostatin promotes itch sensation and can inhibit pain sensation.

Impact

These findings settle several conflicting previous reports regarding the role of somatostatin in pain and itch. The research confirms that somatostatin enhances itch and can inhibit pain sensation associated with excessive heat. Thus, somatostatin is a possible target for developing treatments for chronic itch, which can be debilitating.

Publications

Huang J, Polgár E, Solinski HJ, Mishra SK, Tseng PY, Iwagaki N, Boyle KA, Dickie AC, Kriegbaum MC, Wildner H, Zeilhofer HU, Watanabe M, Riddell JS, Todd AJ, Hoon MA. (2018). Circuit dissection of the role of somatostatin in itch and pain. Nat Neurosci. 21(5):707-716.