Antipruritic effects of transient heat-stimulation on histaminergic and non-histaminergic itch

Daniele Riccio, Hjalte Holm Andersen, Lars Arendt-Nielsen

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Background: Chronic itch is notoriously difficult to treat. Counterstimuli are able to inhibit itch, but this principle is difficult to apply in clinical practice, and the mechanisms behind counterstimulation-induced itch suppression in humans are unclear. Objectives: Firstly, to analyse the stimulus–response effects of transient heat stimuli on histaminergic and nonhistaminergic itch, and secondly, to investigate whether the antipruritic effect depends on homotopic (peripheral mediation) or heterotopic (central mediation) counterstimulation relative to the itch provocation site. Methods: Eighteen healthy volunteers participated (eight female, mean age 25·7 ± 0·8 years). Itch was evoked on premarked areas of the volar forearms, by either histamine (1% solution) or cowhage (35–40 spicules). In addition to the itch provocations (experiment 1), 5-s homotopic heat stimuli at 32, 40, 45 or 50 °C were applied. In experiment 2, heat stimuli were applied either homotopically, intrasegmentally (next to the provocation site) or extrasegmentally (dorsal forearm). Itch intensity was evaluated throughout the procedures using a digital visual analogue scale. Results: Homotopic counterstimuli inhibited histaminergic itch by 41·3% at 45 °C (P < 0·01) and by 76·7% at 50 °C (P < 0·001). Cowhage-induced itch was less prone to counterstimulation and was significantly diminished only at 50 °C, by 43·6% (P = 0·009). Counterstimulations applied heterotopically were not able to inhibit itch significantly. Conclusions: Itch pathway-specific effects of counterstimuli were observed between homo- and heterotopic stimulation. Histaminergic itch was robustly inhibited by short-term homotopic noxious heat stimuli for up to 10 min. Nonhistaminergic itch was only weakly inhibited. The inhibitory effects exerted by the short-term heat stimuli only occurred following homotopic counterstimulation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Dermatology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)786-795
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

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