Scientists Have Discovered a New Itch-Promoting Gene.

Scientists Have Discovered a New Itch-Promoting Gene.

Jennie Lyon

New “Itch” Gene Prompts Better Eczema Treatment

Scientists have discovered a new itch-promoting gene. Researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the University of California, Berkeley published a paper last week (June 11, 2015) in the online edition of Neuron, identifying serotonin receptor HTR7 as a key mediator of eczema and other forms of itch. This discovery is suggesting a way forward for powerful new therapies for eczema.

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The study included analysis of the molecular basis of itch sensation, as well as touch and pain. It looked at how and why these reactions differ between individuals.

Team members, including associate professor and neuroscientist Diana Bautista at UC-Berkeley, believe that the finding will help lead the way to powerful new therapies for itching conditions. In addition to eczema, altered serotonin signaling in the skin has been found in those people suffering with allergic itch and psoriasis since these conditions are also linked to altered serotonin signaling in skin nerves.

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The study included mice that were specially bred to develop eczema that lacked the HTR7 gene. These mice had fewer and less severe skin lesions and scratched less than mice that did have the HTR7 gene. Reducing expression of HTR7 in mice given sertraline caused them to cease scratching. This suggests that a new drug can be targeted based on the functions of the HTR7 gene.

Did you know that itching and scratching can be side effects of taking antidepressants? These can elevate levels of serotonin in the skin. The HTR7 findings may also help reduce side effects of antidepressants.

The new findings hold a lot of promise for treatment not only for eczema but also for all forms of itch disorders. We will be watching further developments in research and treatment that are sure to follow the study.