Administration of acetylcholine and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide to atopic eczema patients


Dr G. Heyer, Dermatologische Universitätsklinik, Hartmannstr. 14, 91052 Erlangen, Germany


Abstract: Responses to acetylcholine (ACh) and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) were investigated in atopic eczema (AE) patients. To elucidate the involvement of histamine to ACh-provoked vasoreactions and sensations, we applied a selective H1-antagonist (cetirizine) 3 h prior to the ACh-administration. Solutions of acetylcholine (ACh, 0.55 M) and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP, 1.5x10−5 M) were injected (10 μl) intracutaneously into the volar forearm of 14 healthy subjects and 14 atopic eczema (AE) patients. The substances were applied as single stimulus as well as in combination. Sensations evoked by the stimulation were recorded using 2 visual analog scales (VAS). Vasoreactions were analyzed with the new technique of computer assisted video image analysis. With this method we measured the dynamics of the flare development and the extension of the final flare size independent of the observer's assessment. In control subjects the development and extension of the observer's assessment. In control subjects the development and extension of the final flare size was almost similar, regardless whether ACh and VIP were applied in combination or separately. Compared to healthy controls, after injection of ACh, VIP and the combination of VIP and ACh smaller flare sizes were recorded in AE patients. After VIP was given, the control subjects reported pruritus, which was significantly augmented compared to AE patients. In contrast, controls reported a burning pain after the injection of ACh, whereas AE patients felt predominantly pruritus. Itch sensation after the combined application of VIP and ACh was significantly elevated in AE patients. Consequently, we assume that mediators of sudomotor neurons, i.e., VIP and ACh meet in AE patients apparently sensitized nociceptive primary afferents and induce exaggerated itch, pain and flare responses. When pretreated with the selective H1-antagonist cetirizine before ACh was injected, pain and erythema due to ACh was diminished in healthy controls. In contrast, cetirizine did not influence the size of erythema and the magnitude of sensation in AE patients. We conclude, that the release of histamine is not involved in ACh-induced erythema and pruritus in AE. These data provide evidence that pruritus can be elicited in atopic eczema by a cholinergic, histamine independent mechanism.