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Pain. 2009 Jul;144(1-2):66-75. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2009.03.001. Epub 2009 May 6.

Similar itch and nociceptive sensations evoked by punctate cutaneous application of capsaicin, histamine and cowhage.

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Department of Anesthesiology, Yale University School of Medicine, P.O. Box 208051, 333 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT 06520-8051, USA.


Itch evoked by cowhage or histamine is reduced or blocked by capsaicin desensitization, suggesting that pruriceptive neurons are capsaicin-sensitive. Topical capsaicin can evoke both nociceptive sensations and itch, whereas intradermal injection of capsaicin evokes only burning pain. To dissociate the pruritic and nociceptive sensory effects caused by the chemical activation of sensory neurons, chemicals were applied in a punctiform manner to the skin of the forearm using individual, heat-inactivated cowhage spicules treated with various concentrations of capsaicin (1-200 mg/ml) or histamine (0.01-100 mg/ml). Perceived intensities of itch, pricking/stinging and burning were obtained every 30 s using the general version of the Labeled Magnitude Scale and compared with ratings evoked by individual native cowhage spicules. Similar to cowhage, capsaicin and histamine spicules reliably evoked sensations of itch in a dose-dependent manner which were most often accompanied by pricking/stinging and to a lesser extent burning. Spicules containing 200 mg/ml capsaicin or 10 mg/ml histamine yielded peak magnitudes and durations of sensations comparable to those elicited by cowhage. Each type of spicule also produced comparable areas of dysesthesias (enhanced mechanically evoked itch or pain) and/or skin reactions (wheal and/or flare) in surrounding skin, though inconsistently. The incidence of flare was greater in response to histamine than to capsaicin or cowhage. These results suggest the possibility that capsaicin, histamine and cowhage activate common peripheral or central neural mechanisms that mediate pruritic sensations and associated dysesthesias.

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