Researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the University of California at Berkeley have discovered a gene and a serotonin receptor controlled by that gene that are the key to the itch that is the most troublesome symptom of eczema. The receptor is also a control mechanism for other itch producing conditions. Dr. .Diana Bautista, a neuroscientist at Berkeley, and Dr. Rachel Brem, a geneticist at the Buck Institute, reported the discovery.
The serotonin receptor HTR7 was found to be the key mediator in the severity of itch caused by eczema and the gene that produces HTR7 controls how itch is created in eczema and other conditions that produce constant itching. The validity of the concept was demonstrated in mouse models. Mice that had the HTR7 receptor removed did not display the symptoms of itch even if they had eczema. Genetic removal of the gene that controls HTR7 produced the same results.
The discovery indicates a new pathway for research to control the itch associated with eczema and other conditions that produce chronic itch. The study notes that about 10 percent of the population of the world has eczema to some extent. The researchers point out that between 10 and 20 percent of the world’s population will suffer from some chronic itch condition at some time in their life.
The elimination of the HTR7 receptor directly is not feasible for humans. One approach could be a genetic restructuring that reduces the sensitivity of the receptor to factors that cause itching. The researchers have not found a cure for eczema but they have found a way to stop the itching. The time frame to develop a drug or therapy could be ten years.