A research team at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences located in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, announced its findings on 12 Aug. The team included Kei Nakagawa, now an assistant professor at the Hiroshima University graduate school of biomedical and health sciences.
Past research has shown that applying a similar weak electric shock to the sensorimotor area of the cerebral cortex helped alleviate pain. The scientists theorized the shock could also suppress itching because the sensorimotor area also detects itching.
The experiment involved 14 adults who were asked to wear a simple device on their heads that delivered a weak current of about 1 milliampere, which to some people is barely noticeable. The current was applied for about 15 minutes.
The subjects had a substance applied to their arms that triggered an itch. They were then asked to evaluate the itch on a nine-point scale.
The researchers found that applying the weak electric shock led to a weaker feeling of the itch, as well as shorter duration over which the itching was felt.
"The electric shock may have made neural activity in the cerebral cortex more active and even if a new itching signal went to the cortex, the sensation might not have been felt because the brain could not process that signal," one of the members of the research team said.
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