PerspectiveNEUROPHYSIOLOGY

A cellular mechanism for age-induced itch

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Science  04 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6388, pp. 492-493
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5617

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Summary

It is well known that aging is accompanied by the death of specific cell types that function as sensors of outside signals and that this cell death leads to deficits in our ability to detect these signals. For example, age-associated loss of sensory hair cells and/or spiral ganglia neurons in the inner ear leads to progressive hearing loss, particularly of high frequencies (1). Similarly, death of photoreceptors in the retina of the eye is a key aspect of the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision impairment in individuals older than 60 years of age (2). On page 530 of this issue, Feng et al. (3) identify an unusual link between age-related loss of a sensory cell type and aberrant sensory processing: During aging, the loss of specialized skin cells called Merkel cells results in alloknesis, the pathological sensation of itch in response to innocuous mechanical stimuli.