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Washington University scientists discover itch gene

By Julie Bierach, KWMU

ST. LOUIS, MO – Researchers at Washington University's School of Medicine have discovered the first itch gene in the central nervous system.

It's called GRPR, and is found in a small population of spinal cord nerve cells.

Washington University scientists found it while studying potential pain sensing genes in mice.

Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen, an associate professor of anesthesiology was the lead investigator. He says finding the gene could lead to the development of medications to treat symptoms of severe and chronic itching.

"There's also a lot of patients undergoing cancer therapy and receiving morphine. And they also have lots of itching, and that's very distressful," said Chen.

Previously, scientists had regarded itching as just a less intense version of pain. Now, they hope to develop drugs to block itching without suppressing pain.

The findings are published in the on-line version of the journal, Nature.

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