The focus of Dr. Chen’s team is on the coding logic of itch vs. pain sensation. His team has uncovered the first itch-specific receptor GRPR and neural circuits in the spinal cord. These seminal discoveries have opened up an exciting new frontier for deciphering itch circuits and function. Ongoing research program is centered on signaling and synaptic mechanisms of itch transmission from the skin to the brain. Genetic and molecular tools are being developed to mark and isolate itch neurons for molecular, electrophysiological, cellular and circuit analysis. Recent research from his laboratory reveals remarkable diversity, plasticity and complexity of itch signaling and circuits in both sensory neurons and in the spinal cord. Detailed elucidation of how GRPR receives, process and relay itch information may shed insights onto potential therapies for chronic itch.
Nattkemper LA, Zhao ZQ, Nichols AJ, Papoiu AD, Shively CA, Chen ZF, Yosipovitch G.
Liu XY, Liu ZC, Sun YG, Ross M, Kim SI, Tsai FF, Li QF, Jeffry J, Kim JY, Loh HH, and Chen ZF. (2011) Unidirectional cross activation of GRPR by MOR1D uncouples itch and analgesia-induced by opioids. Cell 147(2):447-458. PMID: 22000021
Jeffry J, Kim SI, and Chen ZF. (2011) Itch Signaling in the nervous system. Physiology 26(4):286-292. PMID: 21841076
Sun YG*, Zhao ZQ*, Meng XL, Yin J, Liu XY, and Chen ZF. (2009) Cellular Basis of Itch Sensation. Science 325(5947): 1531-1534. (*equal contribution) PMID: 19661382
Xiang CX, Zhang KH, Johnson R.L., Jacquin M.F. and Chen ZF. The transcription factor, Lmx1b, promotes a neuronal glutamate phenotype and suppresses a GABA one in the embryonic trigeminal brainstem complex. Somatosens Mot Res. 2012; 29(1): 1-12. PMID: 22397680
Itching is one of the most prevalent side effects of powerful, pain-killing drugs like morphine, oxycodone and other opioids. The opiate-associated itch is so common that even women who get epidurals for labor pain often complain of itching. For many years, scientists have scratched their own heads about why drugs that so effectively suppress pain also induce itch.
Now in mice, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown they can control opioid-induced itching…
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has launched its new Center for the Study of Itch, believed to be the world’s first multidisciplinary program designed solely to understand and treat itch.
The center was established to bring scientists and clinicians together to conduct research on the mechanisms that transmit itch and, ultimately, to translate those findings into better treatments for chronic sufferers.
Patients with chronic itch include those with certain types of cancer and those…
NAME: Zhou-Feng Chen
TITLE: Director, Center for the Study of Itch at the Washington University School of Medicine
LOCATION: St. Louis, Mo.
Why do we need a research center dedicated to itch?
First, chronic itch is a major underreported disease. Many patients—as many as 17 percent of adults, according to one study—suffer from it, and many of them never seek medical help. They think they can scratch it away. Because it’s not cancer, you don’t…