Pathophysiology and therapy of pruritus in allergic and atopic diseases


  • Edited by: Jean Bousquet

Martin Steinhoff, MD, PhD, Departments of Dermatology and Surgery, University of California San Francisco, 513 Parnassus Ave, Room S-1268, 94143 San Fransico, CA, USA. Tel.: +1 415 476 6978
Fax: +1 415 476 0936


To cite this article: Buddenkotte J, Steinhoff M. Pathophysiology and therapy of pruritus in allergic and atopic diseases. Allergy 2010; 65: 805–821.


Pruritus (itch) is a major characteristic and one of the most debiliating symptoms in allergic and atopic diseases and the diagnostic hallmark of atopic dermatitis. Pruritus is regularly defined as an unpleasant sensation provoking the desire to scratch. Although we achieved rather good knowledge about certain inducers of itch such as neuropeptides, amines, μ-opioids, cytokines and proteases, for example, less is known about the pathophysiological specifities among the different diseases, and the therapeutic consequences which may derive thereoff. This review dissects the role of mediators, receptors and itch inhibitors on peripheral nerve endings, dorsal root ganglia, the spinal cord and the CNS leading to the amplification or – vice versa – suppression of pruritus. As the treatment of pruritus in allergic and atopic skin disease is still not satisfactory, knowing these pathways and mechanisms may lead to novel therapeutic approaches against this frequently encountered skin symptom.