Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Scratching the Itch

Neutrophils – a type of white blood cell –  are implicated in eczema-related itching

02 January 2020

Scratching the Itch

We all know what it’s like to have an itch you can't scratch. But when that minor irritation builds over months or years, it can be debilitating. Chronic itch is often caused by eczema, and many common treatments are ineffective. Skin cells, nerves (marked in green and magenta in the mouse skin pictured), and cells from the immune system collaborate to create the unbearable sensation, and a new study has looked at how they rile each other up. It found that neutrophils – a type of white blood cell designed to heal tissue and resolve infections – trigger the itch. Removing neutrophils relieved mice with an eczema-like condition of their itch, and prevented other changes associated with eczema setting in. Drugs to counter neutrophils already exist for other conditions, so there’s a chance this discovery could lead to new treatments, and help soothe the itch once and for all.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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