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Identification of an essential spinoparabrachial pathway for mechanical itch

Ren, X;Liu, S;Virlogeux, A;Kang, SJ;Brusch, J;Liu, Y;Dymecki, SM;Han, S;Goulding, M;Acton, D;

The sensation of itch is a protective response that is elicited by either mechanical or chemical stimuli. The neural pathways for itch transmission in the skin and spinal cord have been characterized previously, but the ascending pathways that transmit sensory information to the brain to evoke itch perception have not been identified. Here, we show that spinoparabrachial neurons co-expressing Calcrl and Lbx1 are essential for generating scratching responses to mechanical itch stimuli. Moreover, we find that mechanical and chemical itch are transmitted by separate ascending pathways to the parabrachial nucleus, where they engage separate populations of FoxP2PBN neurons to drive scratching behavior. In addition to revealing the architecture of the itch transmission circuitry required for protective scratching in healthy animals, we identify the cellular mechanisms underlying pathological itch by showing the ascending pathways for mechanical and chemical itch function cooperatively with the FoxP2PBN neurons to drive chronic itch and hyperknesis/alloknesis.