Enhanced excitability of MRGPRA3-and MRGPRD-positive nociceptors in a model of inflammatory itch and pain

Lintao Qu, Ni Fan, Chao Ma, Tao Wang, Liang Han, Kai Fu, Yingdi Wang, Steven G. Shimada, Xinzhong Dong, Robert H. Lamotte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Itch is a common symptom of diseases of the skin but can also accompany diseases of other tissues including the nervous system. Acute itch from chemicals experimentally applied to the skin is initiated and maintained by action potential activity in a subset of nociceptive neurons. But whether these pruriceptive neurons are active or might become intrinsically more excitable under the pathological conditions that produce persistent itch and nociceptive sensations in humans is largely unexplored. Recently, two distinct types of cutaneous nociceptive dorsal root ganglion neurons were identified as responding to pruritic chemicals and playing a role in itch sensation. One expressed the mas-related G-coupled protein receptor MRGPRA3 and the other MRGPRD (MRGPRA3+ and MRGPRD+ neurons, respectively). Here we tested whether these two distinct pruriceptive nociceptors exhibited an enhanced excitability after the development of contact hypersensitivity, an animal model of allergic contact dermatitis, a common pruritic disorder in humans. The characteristics of increased excitability of pruriceptive neurons during this disorder may also pertain to the same types of neurons active in other pruritic diseases or pathologies that affect the nervous system and other tissues or organs. We found that challenging the skin of the calf of the hind paw or the cheek of previously sensitized mice with the hapten, squaric acid dibutyl ester, produced symptoms of contact hypersensitivity including an increase in skin thickness and site-directed spontaneous pain-like (licking or wiping) and itch-like (biting or scratching) behaviours. Ablation of MRGPRA3+ neurons led to a significant reduction in spontaneous scratching of the hapten-challenged nape of the neck of previously sensitized mice. In vivo, electrophysiological recordings revealed that MRGPRA3+ and MRGPRD+ neurons innervating the hapten-challenged skin exhibited a greater incidence of spontaneous activity and/or abnormal after-discharges in response to mechanical and heat stimuli applied to their receptive fields compared with neurons from the vehicle-treated control animals. Whole-cell recordings in vitro showed that both MRGPRA3+ and MRGPRD+ neurons from hapten-challenged mice displayed a significantly more depolarized resting membrane potential, decreased rheobase, and greater number of action potentials at twice rheobase compared with neurons from vehicle controls. These signs of neuronal hyperexcitability were associated with a significant increase in the peak amplitude of tetrodotoxin-sensitive and resistant sodium currents. Thus, the hyperexcitability of MRGPRA3+ and MRGPRD+ neurons, brought about in part by enhanced sodium currents, may contribute to the spontaneous itch-and pain-related behaviours accompanying contact hypersensitivity and/or other inflammatory diseases in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1039-1050
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • allergic contact dermatitis
  • itch
  • pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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