Scratching linked to activity in various regions of the brain

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A recent study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology has linked scratching to activity in various regions of the brain. According to Gil Yosipovitch, M.D., and research colleagues, certain areas of the brain increase in activity as a result of scratching while others decrease. Dr. Yosipovitch commented regarding the findings saying, “We know scratching is pleasurable, but we haven’t known why.”

The study focused on a group of 13 volunteers scratched by a brush on their legs in thirty-second intervals, with thirty seconds of rest between, for a total of five minutes. MRI scanning commenced one minute before the stimuli in order to measure brain activities. The following is an excerpt of an article from Medpage Today that reviews the findings of the scans:

Dr. Yosipovitch and colleagues found that the scratching induced deactivation of the perigenual anterior cortex and in the dorsal and ventral posterior cingulate cortex, bilaterally in all cases. Peak Z scores ranged from 2.31 for the right ventral posterior cingulate cortex to 4.05 for the left dorsal posterior cingulate cortex.

When participants reported the most intense sensation from scratching, the level of deactivation in the anterior cingulate cortex was highest.

Earlier studies have connected the anterior cingulate cortex to emotional and cognitive processing, including reactions to unpleasant sensory stimuli, Dr. Yosipovitch and colleagues said.

Deactivation of this region could be one mechanism by which scratching alleviates itch.

Said Dr. Yosipovitch, “It’s possible that scratching may suppress the emotional components of itch and bring about its relief.”

Click here to read the entire article from Medpage Today

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.
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