BostonScience, Tech & Medicine

Harvard Scientists Uncover Itch Instigator, Pesky Skin Bug Directly Assaults Nerve Cells!

Harvard Scientists Uncover Itch Instigator, Pesky Skin Bug Directly Assaults Nerve Cells!Source: Google Street View
Mitch M. Rosenthal
Published on November 22, 2023

Scratching the surface of a pesky problem, Harvard boffins have unearthed a clue to that maddening itch. It turns out that Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria notorious for its role in various skin complaints, may be the culprit triggering our scratchy distress, diving directly into our nerve cells and causing a flurry of frustration as reported by The Boston Globe.

In an itchy conundrum that has mystified countless sufferers of conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, Harvard's whiz team has indicated that this bacteria is not just an unwelcome guest but a manipulator of our nervous system, and this revelation could hold the key to curbing the relentless urge to scratch that so often leads to skin damage through the medium of pills and perhaps even soothing creams in the pipeline, but the journey from lab to lotion bottle is still long and winding according to STAT News.

Digging deeper, the Harvard study, as revealed by STAT, shows that S. aureus flexes its itch-inducing prowess by releasing an enzyme known as V8 which grabs onto a protein in nerve cells, triggering a domino effect felt from skin to spine and up to the noggin, leaving us scrambling for relief. Although traditionally this bacteria-and-itch sequence was thought to play out in a roundabout way, Brian Kim, a physician-scientist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, noted that this discovery showcased a more direct route, telling STAT, "it kind of makes you wonder now, 'Oh, boy, like, what else did we miss?'".

Harvard's research is still in the rodent realm, but the implications for humans are far from trivial, as the success with mice using Vorapaxar, a stroke-preventing drug with a newfound potential to silence the itch, teases the promise of nonsurgical relief. However, caution is advised by associate professor Isaac Chiu, who underscored in his discussion with STAT that human skin has its own set of complexities, and further explorations are essential.

As scientists continue to scratch beneath the surface of this microbial-itch mystery, Liwen Deng, lead author of the groundbreaking paper from Harvard, shares an optimistic view with STAT News, suggesting a wider range of bacterial pathways yet to be explored, potentially opening doors to a future where itching might be nothing but a nuisance of the past.

BostonScience, Tech & Medicine