Background: Strategies to efficiently control itch require a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Several areas in the brain involved in itch and scratching responses have been postulated, but the central mechanisms that drive pruritic responses are still unknown. Histamine is recognized as a major mediator of itch in humans, and has been the most frequently used stimulus as an experimental pruritogen for brain imaging of itch.
Objective: Histaminergic itch via histamine and the selective histamine H4 receptor (H4R) agonist, ST-1006, recruit brain nuclei through c-fos activation and activate specific areas in the brain.
Methods: An acute itch model was established in c-fos-EGFP transgenic mice using ST-1006 and histamine. Coronal brain sections were stained for c-fos immunoreactivity and the forebrain was mapped for density of c-fos + nuclei.
Results: Histamine and ST-1006 significantly increased scratching response in c-fos-EGFP mice compared to vehicle controls. Mapping c-fos immunostained brain sections revealed neuronal activity in the cortex, striatum, hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala, and the midbrain.
Conclusions: Histaminergic itch and selective H4R activation significantly increased the density of c-fos + nuclei in the medial habenula (MHb). Thus, the MHb may be a new target to investigate and subsequently develop novel mechanism-based strategies to treat itch and possibly provide a locus for pharmacological control of pruritus.