Innocuous mechanical stimuli, such as rubbing or stroking the skin, relieve itch through the activation of low-threshold mechanoreceptors. However, the mechanisms behind this inhibition remain unknown. We presently investigated whether stroking the skin reduces the responses of superficial dorsal horn neurons to pruritogens in male C57BL/6J mice. Single-unit recordings revealed that neuronal responses to chloroquine were enhanced during skin stroking, and this was followed by suppression of firing below baseline levels after the termination of stroking. Most of these neurons additionally responded to capsaicin. Stroking did not suppress neuronal responses to capsaicin, indicating state-dependent inhibition. Vesicular glutamate transporter 3 (VGLUT3)-lineage sensory nerves compose a subset of low-threshold mechanoreceptors. Stroking-related inhibition of neuronal responses to chloroquine was diminished by optogenetic inhibition of VGLUT3-lineage sensory nerves in male and female Vglut3-cre/NpHR-EYFP mice. Conversely, in male and female Vglut3-cre/ChR2-EYFP mice, optogenetic stimulation of VGLUT3-lineage sensory nerves inhibited firing responses of spinal neurons to pruritogens after the termination of stimulation. This inhibition was nearly abolished by spinal delivery of the j-opioid receptor antagonist nor-binaltorphimine dihydrochloride, but not the neuropeptide Y receptor Y1 antagonist BMS193885. Optogenetic stimulation of VGLUT3-lineage sensory nerves inhibited pruritogen-evoked scratching without affecting mechanical and thermal pain behaviors. Therefore, VGLUT3-lineage sensory nerves appear to mediate inhibition of itch by tactile stimuli.
- Spinal cord
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