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Office of Neuroscience Research > WUSTL Neuroscience News > Itching for no reason? Immune system may be at fault

Itching for no reason? Immune system may be at fault



From the WashU Newsroom

People who suffer itching with no clear cause may have previously unrecognized immune system defects. In a small study of such patients, researchers from the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis identified immune system irregularities that may prompt the urge to scratch.

The findings are reported in the May issue of The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

“As doctors, we throw things like antihistamines, ointments and lotions at patients who suffer chronic itching, but if there is something profoundly abnormal about the immune system — as it appears there is — then we can’t solve the itching until we address those underlying causes,” said principal investigator Brian S. Kim, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Dermatology. “The immune system needs to be in balance, and we hope to find ways to restore that balance in patients with this very debilitating condition.”

The researchers took blood samples and skin biopsies from a small sample of patients — only four are reported in the study — to look for immune problems. They found “an incredible amount of dysfunction,” Kim said, adding that he has seen similar defects in numerous additional patients not included in the current study.

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