Maddening itch of liver disease comes from a surprising source

Wednesday, April 7, 2021
graphic describing the steps from elevated LPC to itch

Excess lipids produced by liver failure signal an itching sensation directly to the skin cells, through a receptor called TRPV4 and a microRNA. (Wolfgang Liedtke)

Itching sensation originates in the skin cells themselves, after signaling from an excess of lipid

A devastating itching of the skin driven by severe liver disease turns out to have a surprising cause. Its discovery points toward possible new therapies for itching, and shows that the outer layer of the skin is so much more than insulation.

The finding, which appears April 2 in Gastroenterology, indicates that the keratinocyte cells of the skin surface are acting as what lead researcher Wolfgang Liedtke, MD PhD, calls ‘pre-neurons.’

“The skin cells themselves are sensory under certain conditions, specifically the outermost layer of cells, the keratinocytes,” said Liedtke, who is a professor of neurology at Duke School of Medicine.

Read At Duke Today