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Before those injections, the mice scratched vigorously. But after the itch cells were killed off, their scratching plummeted -- in some cases stopped completely -- when Chen introduced one after another itchy substance.
They weren't simply numbed: Their motor function remained normal, and so did their response to pain from heat and pressure in a series of common experiments that show animals flick their tails or pull away their paws during various stresses.
This isn't the only itch pathway to the brain, stressed Wake Forest's Yosipovitch. Nor does anyone know if this gene would behave similarly in people. But researchers have been hunting itch-specific receptors in hopes of eventually learning how to block their "scratch-me" signals to the brain and help relieve at least some types of itch.
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