Itching for a so­lu­tion? Re­searchers may have a clue,

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS -

It’s a fa­mil­iar sen­sa­tion, par­tic­u­larly among lovers of wool sweaters or fre­quent vic­tims of in­sect bites, but itch­i­ness and its causes have long been a source of con­tentious de­bate among sci­en­tists. Re­searchers at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine now think they may have come up with an an­swer to the burn­ing ques­tion, “Why do we itch?”

The sci­en­tists say they have iden­ti­fied spe­cific nerve cells in mice that are re­spon­si­ble for send­ing itch sig­nals to the ner­vous sys­tem. Their find­ings, pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Neu­ro­science, could set­tle decades of bick­er­ing about how the hu­man body pro­cesses feel­ings of pain ver­sus feel­ings of itch.

The in­fight­ing has been fu­eled by un­cer­tainty about whether cer­tain nerve cells, equipped to re­spond to both itchy and painful stim­uli, were send­ing both sig­nals to the brain. Based on th­ese lat­est find­ings, re­searchers con­cluded that nerve cells with an itch re­cep­tor known as MrgA3 send itch mes­sages to the brain whether they’re ex­posed to painful or itchy stim­uli.

In one of their ex­per­i­ments, re­searchers bred mice so that their MrgA3 cells were the only cells ca­pa­ble of re­spond­ing to a pain-pro­duc­ing pep­pery sub­stance. Af­ter in­ject­ing the sub­stance into the cheeks of the mice, the sci­en­tists ob­served their furry sub­jects fran­ti­cally scratch­ing their lit­tle mouse cheeks in­stead of mas­sag­ing their mouths in pain, as was ex­pected. ( Out­liers apol­o­gizes to any mice-lov­ing read­ers.)

That re­ac­tion sug­gested to the re­search team that MrgA3 cells were send­ing itch mes­sages re­gard­less of the stim­u­lus.

“Now that we have dis­en­tan­gled th­ese itchy sen­sa­tions from the painful ones, we should be able to de­sign drugs that tar­get itch­spe­cific nerve cells to com­bat chronic itch­i­ness,” said Xinzhong Dong, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in neu­ro­science at Johns Hop­kins and the study’s lead au­thor.

But there could still be some rough patches ahead. The sci­en­tists ac­knowl­edged in the study that MrgA3 cells may not be the only nerve cells in the body to re­spond to itchy stim­uli, sug­gest­ing they might just be start­ing to scratch the sur­face of the prob­lem.

That gar­bled text could be a warn­ing

Add “dys­tex­tia” to the di­ag­nos­tic terms physi­cians can throw around. And while it’s about the oft-an­noy­ing sub­ject of text-mes­sag­ing, Out­liers will re­frain from too much smart aleck­ery, since it in­volves a se­ri­ous topic. It seems jum­bled, non­sen­si­cal text mes­sages can be a sign of stroke. In a re­cent ar­ti­cle in Ar­chives of Neu­rol­ogy, a physi­cian at Brigham and Women’s Hospi­tal in Bos­ton and his col­leagues de­tailed a case they en­coun­tered. A preg­nant woman went in for a rou­tine checkup, came out of the of­fice and texted her hus­band.

But the text made no sense, con­cern­ing her hus­band enough to take her to the emer­gency room. Turns out, she was hav­ing a stroke. Since the woman had lost her voice due to a cold, her dys­tex­tia was the key clue her physi­cians had to her prob­lem.

“The dys­tex­tia was the first clin­i­cal sign that we had that she was hav­ing a stroke,” Dr. Joshua Klein told Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio.

The woman had no per­ma­nent dam­age and re­cov­ered her abil­ity to speak (and text).

In search of live­lier read­ing

Out­liers is sure you’re fa­mil­iar with the phe­nom­e­non: You’re wait­ing (… and wait­ing) in the doc­tor’s of­fice or a hospi­tal, and all there is to read is a 10-year-old copy of Golf.

One mag­a­zine is do­ing what it can to fight that syn­drome by do­nat­ing piles of its back is­sues to can­cer treat­ment cen­ters. It seems an ed­i­tor of Men­tal Floss was un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy and needed a lit­tle ex­tra di­ver­sion dur­ing treat­ment. “The only mag­a­zines are ones that get left be­hind by pre­vi­ous pa­tients, which largely re­sults in an eclec­tic mix of trade mags. (I’m sure Pa­per Age and Na­tional Guard are both fine pub­li­ca­tions, but they’re not ex­actly gen­eral in­ter­est ti­tles),” Ethan Trex wrote in his blog. Out­liers as­sumes he wasn’t re­fer­ring to Mod­ern Health­care, of course.

Men­tal Floss, an eclec­tic mag­a­zine that bills it­self as “an in­tel­li­gent read, but not too in­tel­li­gent,” asked its read­ers to sug­gest more can­cer cen­ters that could use some back is­sues. If you have sug­ges­tions, you could drop them a line at let­ters@men­talfloss.com.

Quotable

“There could be an­other De­val Pa­trick out there. Maybe it’s Don Ber­wick.”

—Philip John­ston, a former chair­man of the Mas­sachusetts Demo­cratic Party, in a Bos­ton Globe story about the former CMS ad­min­is­tra­tor con­sid­er­ing a run for gov­er­nor

of the state in 2014 to suc­ceed Pa­trick.

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Got an itch? New re­search seems to have pin­pointed the source.

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Some­times you need en­ter­tain­ing read­ing.

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