A University of Michigan team has identified the neuronal pathway, from the skin to the spinal cord, responsible for transmitting this itching sensation, opening the pathway for treating patients with chronic itch.

Conditions such as eczema, diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis and cancers can trigger chronic itch in patients—defined as itching that lasts six or more weeks. Currently there are no effective treatments for the condition.

“Our study can help us better understand the neural mechanism of itch, and potentially develop a new strategy to treat chronic itch,” said Bo Duan, a researcher in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. “We found this type of neuron is selectively required to transmit mechanical itch, but not chemical itch, suggesting different pathways for different forms of itch.”