Short-term alternating temperature enhances histamine-induced itch: A biphasic stimulus model

Florian Pfab, Michael Valet, Till Sprenger, Thomas R. Toelle, Georgios I. Athanasiadis, Heidrun Behrendt, Johannes Ring, Ulf Darsow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Itch is the major symptom of many allergic or inflammatory skin diseases; yet it is still difficult to measure objectively. Human studies on the physiology and pathophysiology of the itch sensation (e.g. functional magnetic resonance imaging studies) have been hampered by the lack of an efferent and manageable "on-off" stimulus. Here, a short-term temperature-modulated human histamine itch model is presented. In nine healthy right-handed male volunteers (age 29±2.6 years), 1% histamine dihydrochloride was used in the skin prick model as standard itch stimulus on the right forearm with subsequent thermal modulation of the target skin area using a Medoc TSA II NeuroSensory Analyzer® thermode. Modulation occurred in rapid alternating order from 32°C (neutral) to 25°C (slight cold) and vice versa; each temperature block lasted 20 seconds. Subjective itch ratings were recorded using a computerized visual analog scale (VAS) and - for qualitative assessment - the Eppendorf Itch Questionnaire (EIQ). All subjects reported localized itch sensations without pain; mean VAS itch intensity was 50.6±3.5% during the 25°C blocks and 33.8±3.9% during the 32°C blocks (P<0.0001). Also, mean EIQ ratings were significantly higher related to the 25°C blocks. In spite of the common knowledge that intensive cold can inhibit itch sensation, a reproducible, significant enhancement of histamine-induced itch by short-term moderate temperature decrease could be shown. This effect might be explained by peripheral and central adaptation processes triggered by alternating afferent activity patterns and might be used - owing to its "on/off" characteristics-in future itch physiology studies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2673-2678
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2006


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