03 July 2019
Spinal transmission of pruritoceptive (itch) signals requires transneuronal signaling by gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) produced by a subpopulation of dorsal horn excitatory interneurons. These neurons also express the glutamatergic marker vGluT2, raising the question of why glutamate alone is insufficient for spinal itch relay. Using optogenetics together with slice electrophysiology and mouse behavior, we demonstrate that baseline synaptic coupling between GRP and GRP receptor (GRPR) neurons is too weak for suprathreshold excitation. Only when we mimicked the endogenous firing of GRP neurons and stimulated them repetitively to fire bursts of action potentials did GRPR neurons depolarize progressively and become excitable by GRP neurons. GRPR but not glutamate receptor antagonism prevented this action. Provoking itch-like behavior by optogenetic activation of spinal GRP neurons required similar stimulation paradigms. These results establish a spinal gating mechanism for itch that requires sustained repetitive activity of presynaptic GRP neurons and postsynaptic GRP signaling to drive GRPR neuron output.
Spinal itch relay requires effective communication from GRP to GRP receptor neurons
Single action potentials in GRP neurons fail to release sufficient GRP
Only burst firing releases enough GRP to prime GRP receptor neurons for activation
GRP acts as a volume transmitter probably explaining why itch is hard to localize
Pagani et al. investigated the temporal and spatial signature of GRP signaling, a key element of spinal itch relay. They find that GRP signals build up slowly and rather diffusely during stimulation, possibly explaining why itch is difficult to localize.