Itch, the unpleasant sensation that elicits a desire to scratch, is mediated by specific subtypes of cutaneous sensory neuron. Here, we identify a subpopulation of itch‐sensing neurons based on their expression of the receptor tyrosine kinase Ret. We apply flow cytometry to isolate Ret‐positive neurons from dorsal root ganglia and detected a distinct population marked by low levels of Ret and absence of isolectin B4 binding. We determine the transcriptional profile of these neurons and demonstrate that they express neuropeptides such as somatostatin (Sst), the NGF receptor TrkA, and multiple transcripts associated with itch. We validate the selective expression of Sst using an Sst‐Cre driver line and ablated these neurons by generating mice in which the diphtheria toxin receptor is conditionally expressed from the sensory neuron‐specific Avil locus. Sst‐Cre::AviliDTR mice display normal nociceptive responses to thermal and mechanical stimuli. However, scratching behavior evoked by interleukin‐31 (IL‐31) or agonist at the 5HT1F receptor is significantly reduced. Our data provide a molecular signature for a subpopulation of neurons activated by multiple pruritogens.
This study shows that a subset of DRG neurons expressing the tyrosine kinase Ret and somatostatin function as itch receptor and mediate 5HT1f receptor agonist‐induced scratching in mice.
Flow cytometric analysis of peripheral sensory neurons is used to isolate multiple Ret‐positive subsets.
Transcriptional profiling of sensory neurons with low levels of Ret and an absence of IB4 binding reveals co‐expression of somatostatin (Sst), interleukin‐31 (IL‐31) and serotonin receptor 5HT1f.
Ablation of Sst‐positive neurons reduces scratching responses to IL‐31 and 5HT1f agonists in vivo.
- Received July 7, 2015.
- Revision received January 22, 2016.
- Accepted January 26, 2016.
- © 2016 The Authors