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A study of skin bacteria has led scientists to believe that a cure for eczema itchiness may be possible, giving hope to those suffering from the condition.


Itches can be extremely uncomfortable, whether they manifest as a tickle in the nose or an irritation in the hair. Researchers have recently discovered that a certain type of bacteria found on the skin may be responsible for causing this sensation.

Significantly, these bacteria are frequently present on the skin of individuals with eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. This research sheds light on the reason for the compulsion to itch that often accompanies these conditions.

According to Professor Isaac Chiu, the lead researcher from Harvard Medical School, the study (which utilized both mice and human samples and nerve fibers) emphasized the significance of the microbial composition on our skin for maintaining good health.

He stated that if we are able to prevent itch, particularly for individuals with long-term itch conditions, it could potentially enhance their quality of life.

The research, which was printed in the publication Cell, outlines how Chiu and their team unraveled the connection between Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph, and atopic dermatitis, a prevalent skin condition that causes itching and affects 20% of children and 10% of adults.

According to Chiu, Staph is typically present in itchy skin lesions. However, he noted that there has been no evidence of staph directly causing itch until our research was conducted.

During their initial tests, the researchers found that mice exposed to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on their skin were not only more prone to developing dermatitis compared to those without exposure, but also exhibited increased scratching behavior and experienced itchiness when touched with a fine filament that typically would not cause such a sensation. Lead researcher Chiu noted that this reaction is analogous to how individuals with eczema might find wearing a wool sweater unbearable due to the irritation it causes on their skin.

The team subsequently conducted inquiries to examine the mechanism by which the bacteria induce itchiness. As part of the experiments, scientists administered genetically altered versions of MRSA to mice, which were incapable of producing specific chemicals.

By eliminating other possibilities, the team discovered that an enzyme known as V8 protease is responsible for causing mice to scratch when injected. They also observed that patients with atopic dermatitis had higher levels of this enzyme in skin swabs.

Additional tests showed that this enzyme directly interacts with nerve cells located in the skin that transmit itch sensations to the brain. This is done by attaching to specific receptors on these neurons. The researchers found that when mice were given an anti-clotting medication that is known to inhibit these receptors in other parts of the body, the mice experienced a decrease in itchiness.

In the future, Chiu suggested that it would be intriguing to investigate the possibility of creating a topical cream or ointment version of the drug for treating itchiness.

Though additional studies are necessary in humans, Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, expressed appreciation for the findings.

“Although we have acknowledged the significance of staph aureus in eczema, its role in causing itch has not been acknowledged before,” she stated. She also noted that the research emphasized the crucial and immediate effects of disturbances in the skin’s microbiome. “With this knowledge, we hope to develop new treatment choices that can alleviate the discomfort of both itch and eczema.”

According to Joan Geoghegan, a professor of microbiology and infection at the University of Birmingham, this new information could potentially lead to the creation of treatments that specifically target the bacteria V8 and its impact on sensory neurons. This could help alleviate the sensation of itchiness and the harm caused by scratching.

Source: theguardian.com