Butorphanol suppression of histamine itch is mediated by nucleus accumbens and septal nuclei: A pharmacological fMRI study

Alexandru D.P. Papoiu, Robert A. Kraft, Robert C. Coghill, Gil Yosipovitch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Opioid receptors in the central nervous system are important modulators of itch transmission. In this study, we examined the effect of mixed-action opioid butorphanol on histamine itch, cowhage itch, and heat pain in healthy volunteers. Using functional MRI, we investigated significant changes in cerebral perfusion to identify the critical brain centers mediating the antipruritic effect of butorphanol. Butorphanol suppressed the itch induced experimentally with histamine, reduced the intensity of cowhage itch by approximately 35%, and did not affect heat pain sensitivity. In comparison with the placebo, butorphanol produced a bilateral deactivation of claustrum, insula, and putamen, areas activated during itch processing. Analysis of cerebral perfusion patterns of brain processing of itch versus itch inhibition under the effect of the drug revealed that the reduction in cowhage itch by butorphanol was correlated with changes in cerebral perfusion in the midbrain, thalamus, S1, insula, and cerebellum. The suppression of histamine itch by butorphanol was paralleled by the activation of nucleus accumbens and septal nuclei, structures expressing high levels of kappa opioid receptors. In conclusion, important relays of the mesolimbic circuit were involved in the inhibition of itch by butorphanol and could represent potential targets for the development of antipruritic therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)560-568
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 13 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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