Central serotonin (5-hydroxytryptophan, 5-HT) modulates somatosensory transduction, but how it achieves sensory modality-specific modulation remains unclear. Here we report that enhancing serotonergic tone via administration of 5-HT potentiates itch sensation, whereas mice lacking 5-HT or serotonergic neurons in the brainstem exhibit markedly reduced scratching behavior. Through pharmacological and behavioral screening, we identified 5-HT1A as a key receptor in facilitating gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP)-dependent scratching behavior. Coactivation of 5-HT1A and GRP receptors (GRPR) greatly potentiates subthreshold, GRP-induced Ca2+transients, and action potential firing of GRPR+neurons. Immunostaining, biochemical, and biophysical studies suggest that 5-HT1A and GRPR may function as receptor heteromeric complexes. Furthermore, 5-HT1A blockade significantly attenuates, whereas its activation contributes to, long-lasting itch transmission. Thus, our studies demonstrate that the descending 5-HT system facilitates GRP-GRPR signaling via 5-HT1A to augment itch-specific outputs, and a disruption of crosstalk between 5-HT1A and GRPR may be a useful antipruritic strategy.
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