Zhao ZQ, Liu XY, Jeffry J, Karunarathne WKA, Li JL, Munanairi A, Zhou XY, Li H, Sun YG, Wan L, Wu ZY, Kim S, Huo FQ, Mo P, Barry DM, Zhang CK, Kim JY, Gautam N, Renner KJ, Li YQ, Chen ZF. Neuron. 2014; 84(4): 821-834.
Central serotonin (5-hydroxytryptophan, 5-HT) modulates somatosensory transduction, but how it achieves sensory modality-specific modulation remains unclear. Here we report that enhancing serotonergic tone via administration of 5-HT potentiates itch sensation, whereas mice lacking 5-HT or serotonergic neurons in the brainstem exhibit markedly reduced scratching behavior. Through pharmacological and behavioral screening, we identified 5-HT1A as a key receptor in facilitating gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP)-dependent scratching behavior. Coactivation of 5-HT1A and GRP receptors (GRPR) greatly potentiates subthreshold, GRP-induced Ca2+ transients, and action potential firing of GRPR+ neurons. Immunostaining, biochemical, and biophysical studies suggest that 5-HT1A and GRPR may function as receptor heteromeric complexes. Furthermore, 5-HT1A blockade significantly attenuates, whereas its activation contributes to, long-lasting itch transmission. Thus, our studies demonstrate that the descending 5-HT system facilitates GRP-GRPR signaling via 5-HT1A to augment itch-specific outputs, and a disruption of crosstalk between 5-HT1A and GRPR may be a useful antipruritic strategy.