Liu XY, Wan L, Huo FQ, Barry DM, Li H, Zhao ZQ and Chen ZF. Mol Pain. 2014; 10:4



A recent study by Mishra and Hoon identified B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) as an important peptide for itch transmission and proposed that BNP activates spinal natriuretic peptide receptor-A (NPRA) expressing neurons, which release gastrin releasing peptide (GRP) to activate GRP receptor (GRPR) expressing neurons to relay itch information from the periphery to the brain (Science 340:968-971, 2013). A central premise for the validity of this novel pathway is the absence of GRP in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. To this end, they showed that Grp mRNA in the DRG neurons is either absent or barely detectable and claimed that BNP but not GRP is a major neurotransmitter for itch in pruriceptors. They showed that NPRA immunostaining is perfectly co-expressed with Grp-eGFP in the spinal cord, and a few acute pain behaviors in Nppb-/- mice were tested. They claimed that BNP is an itch-selective peptide that acts as the first station of a dedicated neuronal pathway comprising a GRP-GRPR cascade for itch. However, our studies, along with the others, do not support their claims.

Findings: We were unable to reproduce the immunostaining of BNP and NPRA as shown by Mishra and Hoon. By contrast, we were able to detect Grp mRNA in the DRGs using in situ hybridization and real time RT-PCR. We show that the expression pattern of Grp mRNA is comparable to that of GRP protein in DRGs. Pharmacological and genetic blockade of GRP-GRPR signaling does not significantly affect intrathecal. BNP-induced scratching behavior. We show that BNP inhibits inflammatory pain and morphine analgesia.


Accumulating evidence demonstrates that GRP is a key neurotransmitter in pruriceptors for mediating histamine-independent itch. BNP-NPRA signaling has dual roles in itch and pain and does not function upstream of the GRP-GRPR dedicated neuronal pathway. The site of BNP action in itch and pain and its relationship with GRP remain to be clarified (Science 340:968-971, 2013).

 Zhou-Feng Chen  Chen Lab  PubMed