Here’s Why That Poison Ivy Rash Itches So Much

Researchers have found the molecular cause of poison ivy irritation, bringing us a step closer to drugs that block the itch.

AsianScientist (Aug. 31, 2016) – We all know that a brush with poison ivy leaves us with an itchy painful rash. Now, researchers from Australia and the US have discovered the molecular cause of this irritation in research that was published in Nature Immunology.

Led by Professor Jamie Rossjohn of Monash University and Dr. Florian Winau of Harvard Medical School, the international team found a connection between an immune molecule found in the skin and skin sensitizers. They showed that CD1a, an immune molecule abundant in the skin, plays a crucial role in mediating skin inflammation and irritation after contact with urushiol, the ‘active ingredient’ found in plants endemic to Northern America and parts of Europe and Australia.

“A complex set of experiments, coupled with imaging techniques at the Australian Synchrotron revealed the molecular interplay between CD1a and urushiol. This highlights CD1a’s role in sudden and uncomfortable skin reactions,” Rossjohn said.

Pre-clinical and clinical studies carried out in Boston also showed that blocking the function of CD1a prevents the triggering of this skin-based allergic reaction, giving the researchers further evidence of just how important CD1a is.

By understanding the mechanistic link between Cd1a and urushiol, pharmacological agents can be designed to block poison ivy-related itching, the researchers say.

The article can be found at: Kim et al. (2016) CD1a on Langerhans Cells Controls Inflammatory Skin Disease.


Source: Monash University; Photo: Imaging CoE.
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