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A spinal neural circuitry for converting touch to itch sensation

Chen, S;Gao, XF;Zhou, Y;Liu, BL;Liu, XY;Zhang, Y;Barry, DM;Liu, K;Jiao, Y;Bardoni, R;Yu, W;Chen, ZF;

Touch and itch sensations are crucial for evoking defensive and emotional responses, and light tactile touch may induce unpleasant itch sensations (mechanical itch or alloknesis). The neural substrate for touch-to-itch conversion in the spinal cord remains elusive. We report that spinal interneurons expressing Tachykinin 2-Cre (Tac2Cre) receive direct A? low threshold mechanoreceptor (LTMR) input and form monosynaptic connections with GRPR neurons. Ablation or inhibition markedly reduces mechanical but not acute chemical itch nor noxious touch information. Chemogenetic inhibition of Tac2Cre neurons also displays pronounced deficit in chronic dry skin itch, a type of chemical itch in mice. Consistently, ablation of gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) neurons, which are essential for transmitting chemical itch, also abolishes mechanical itch. Together, these results suggest that innocuous touch and chemical itch information converge on GRPR neurons and thus map an exquisite spinal circuitry hard-wired for converting innocuous touch to irritating itch.