A debate over the nature of itchiness has come closer to an answer, reported LiveScience.

A study published in Nature Neuroscience found specific nerve cells that detect itchy sensations but do not also detect pain, helping to answer the question of whether itchiness is just a kind of pain.

Some pain nerves respond to itchy stimulants, but scientists have long had a difficult time finding nerves that only respond to itch. But those who argued against the theory that itching is a type of pain pointed to the fact that people usually refrain from touching painful surfaces but are drawn to touch the source of itching, the author of the study told LiveScience.

The study used genetically engineered mice to target nerves activated by an itching agent, and scientists were able to manipulate those nerves to reduce itching. They also observed that when those nerves were activated by scientists, mice responded by using their back paws to scratch their faces, whereas pain causes mice to use their front legs.

The study may also lead to better treatments for itchiness, according to a Harvard neuroscientist not party to the study, Ethan Lerner.

[Image: Young Woman Scratching Her Face on Shutterstock]