Molecular and neural basis of contagious itch behavior in mice

Yao Qing Yu, Devin M. Barry, Yan Hao, Xue Ting Liu, Zhou Feng Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Socially contagious itch is ubiquitous in human society, but whether it exists in rodents is unclear. Using a behavioral paradigm that does not entail prior training or reward, we found that mice scratched after observing a conspecific scratching. Molecular mapping showed increased neuronal activity in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus of mice that displayed contagious scratching. Ablation of gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) or GRPR neurons in the SCN abolished contagious scratching behavior, which was recapitulated by chemogenetic inhibition of SCN GRP neurons. Activation of SCN GRP/GRPR neurons evoked scratching behavior. These data demonstrate that GRP-GRPR signaling is necessary and sufficient for transmitting contagious itch information in the SCN. The findings may have implications for our understanding of neural circuits that control socially contagious behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1072-1076
Number of pages5
Issue number6329
StatePublished - Mar 10 2017


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