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Open Access Open Badges Review

Molecular signaling and targets from itch: lessons for cough

Pamela Colleen LaVinka1 and Xingzhong Dong12

Author Affiliations

1 The Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience, Center for Sensory Biology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 725 N Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA

2 Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA

Cough 2013, 9:8  doi:10.1186/1745-9974-9-8

Published: 6 March 2013


Itch is described as an unpleasant sensation that elicits the desire to scratch, which results in the removal of the irritant from the skin. The cough reflex also results from irritation, with the purpose of removing said irritant from the airway. Could cough then be similar to itch? Anatomically, both pathways are mediated by small-diameter sensory fibers. These cough and itch sensory fibers release neuropeptides upon activation, which leads to inflammation of the nerves. Both cough and itch also involve mast cells and their mediators, which are released upon degranulation. This common inflammation and interaction with mast cells are involved in the development of chronic conditions of itch and cough. In this review, we examine the anatomy and molecular mechanisms of itch and compare them to known mechanisms for cough. Highlighting the common aspects of itch and cough could lead to new thoughts and perspectives in both fields.

Itch; Cough; Skin; Airway; C-fibers; A-fibers; Mast cells; TRPs; GPCRs; Inflammation