For people with eczema, persistent itching is a harsh and problematic reality, causing problems ranging from skin infections to insomnia,media New Atlas reported. Scientists have discovered a protein in the skin in the biology behind the condition, which they say acts as a “switch” for neurons associated with itching, providing a potential new target for finding more effective treatments.
There are a number of factors that can cause eczema, including irritants, reactions to certain foods, and allergies. Itching, which often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms such as dryness and redness, is driven by neurons in the skin, which may originate from sensory cells based on the nerve roots of the spinal cord. Researchers at North Carolina State University studied the pathway by conducting experiments on mice in which they chemically induced cases of eczema. When exposing animals to common allergens such as dust mites, the scientists observed an increase in a skin protein called periostin, which greatly exacerbates the itching response.
“We found that periostin, a protein that is produced in large quantities in the skin as part of an allergic reaction, can interact directly with sensory neurons in the skin and effectively ‘turn on’ the itching response,” said lead author Santosh Mishra. “In addition, we found neuronal receptors, which are the initial link between periostin and itching reactions. “
This receptor protein, called alphav beta 3, is expressed in the sensory neurons of the skin and acts as a connector to periostin as it drives an aggravated itching response. The team found that by shutting down the receptor, they could break this important chain and “significantly” reduce the severity of itching.
“Periostin and its receptors directly connect to the skin and the central nervous system,” Mishra said. “We have found the first connection point in the itching pathway associated with eczema. If we can break this connection, we can relieve the itching. “
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.