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Knocking out itch with a BAM

Medicine@Yale, 2011 - July August


Many of us turn to antihistamines to deal with itch caused by seasonal nuisances such as mosquito bites, poison ivy, or allergies. As the name implies, these medications work by blocking the actions of histamine, a chemical in the body that causes skin inflammation.

But some itches, including debilitating chronic itch, do not respond to antihistamines. Scientists recently discovered that a peptide called BAM8–22 caused scratching in mice by activating neural pathways not related to histamine production.

In the May 18 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, a research team led by Robert H. LaMotte, Ph.D., professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology, reported that when BAM8–22 was applied to human subjects’ skin, the subjects unanimously experienced increased itch and burning sensations that could not be calmed by antihistamine treatment.

“BAM8–22 binds to a receptor that is found in sensory nerve fibers in human skin,” says LaMotte. “Development of an antagonist of this receptor may prove useful in the treatment of itch that is not relieved by antihistamines.”