The ability of the somatosensory system to recognize and discriminate myriad external stimuli with remarkable accuracy so that animals can orchestrate a stereotyped motor response to minimize potential harm is critical to animal survival. How the brain discriminates one stimulus from the other is a fundamental question in neuroscience. Itch is relayed from the skin, via the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, to the second order neurons in the spinal cord that project to the brain.  Molecular and neural mechanisms of itch are not well elucidated.

A major effort is to examine how itch information is transmitted from the skin to the brain. One research program is focused on the central mechanisms of itch signaling with an emphasis on understanding key itch receptors in the spinal cord: gastrin releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) and neuromedin B receptor (NMBR). In addition, investigators are exploring the peripheral mechanisms of itch with an emphasis on MrgprA3, an itch receptor in DRG neurons. Other efforts include identification of itch-specific biomarkers from a wide range of chronic itch conditions. Finally, center investigators are also collaborating with other investigators at Washington University School of Medicine to develop lead compounds for novel anti-itch therapeutics. A wide range of approaches, including molecular, cellular, genetic, biochemical, electrophysiological and calcium imagining approaches are being employed to study various aspects of itch signaling.

Itch is evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom. As chronic itch could be debilitating and severely impact the well-being of many patients with skin, live, kidney and immune diseases, a major goal is to translate bench studies into mechanism-based new therapeutics against chronic itch. Therefore, we hope that our research may ultimately help ameliorate the suffering of people with chronic itch.

Research cores

Mouse Behavioral Core

The Mouse Behavioral Core has two highly well circulated and insulated behavioral rooms located contiguously. Each room has six working stations separated by dividers to minimize interference from adjacent stations. In addition, the Core has two designated pain behavioral rooms equipped with standard pain test equipment needed for the measurement of a wide range of pain modalities. Behavioral rooms are located adjacent to an animal surgery room that has a fume hood for processing animals, tissue collection and small surgery. The Mouse Behavior Core serves as a central hub for basic and translational studies.