Neurophysiological and neurochemical basis of modern pruritus treatment


Sonja Ständer, MD, Clinical Neurodermatology, Department of Dermatology, University of Münster, Von-Esmarch-Strasse 58, D-48149 Münster, Germany, Tel.: +49 251 836504, Fax: +49 251 836522, e-mail:


Abstract:  Chronic pruritus of any origin is a frequent discomfort in daily medical practice, and its therapy is challenging. Frequently, the underlying origin may not be identified and symptomatic therapy is necessary. Conventional treatment modalities such as antihistamines often lack efficacy, and hence new therapeutic strategies are necessary. The neuronal mechanisms underlying chronic pruritus have been partly identified during the past years and offer new therapeutic strategies. For example, mast cell degranulation, activation of neuroreceptors on sensory nerve fibres and neurogenic inflammation have been identified to be involved in induction and chronification of the symptom. Accordingly, controlling neuroreceptors such as cannabinoid receptors by agonists or antagonists showed high antipruritic efficacy. Pruritus is transmitted to the central nervous system by specialized nerve fibres and sensory receptors. It has been demonstrated that pruritus and pain have their own neuronal pathways with broad interactions. Accordingly, classical analgesics for neuropathic pain (gabapentin, antidepressants) also exhibit antipruritic efficacy upon clinical use. In summary, these recent developments show that highlighting the basis of pruritus offers modern neurophysiological and neurochemical therapeutic models and the possibility to treat patients with refractory itching of different origin.