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MRGPRX4 is a novel bile acid receptor in cholestatic itch

By Huasheng Yu, Tianjun Zhao, Yang Liu, Qinxue Wu, Omar Johnson, Zhaofa Wu, Zihao Zhuang, Yaocheng Shi, Renxi He, Yong Yang, Jianjun Sun, Xiaoqun Wang, Haifeng Xu, Zheng Zeng, Xiaoguang Lei, Wenqin Luo, Yulong Li

Posted 09 May 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/633446

Patients with liver diseases often suffer from chronic itch or pruritus, yet the itch-causing pruritogen(s) and their cognate receptor(s) remain largely elusive. Using transcriptomics and GPCR activation assays, we found that an orphan, primate specific MRGPRX4 is expressed in human dorsal root ganglia (hDRG) and selectively activated by bile acids. In situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry revealed that MRGPRX4 is expressed in ~7% of hDRG neurons and co-localizes with HRH1, a known itch-inducing GPCR. Bile acids elicited a robust Ca2+ response in a subset of cultured hDRG neurons, and intradermal injection of bile acids and an MRGPRX4 specific agonist induced significant itch in healthy human subjects. Surprisingly, application of agonist for TGR5, a known sequence conserved bile acid receptor previously implicated in cholestatic itch, failed to elicit Ca2+ response in cultured hDRG neurons, nor did it induce pruritus in human subjects. In situ hybridization and immunostaining results revealed that hTGR5 is selectively expressed in satellite glial cells, unlike mTGR5 (in mouse DRG neurons), likely accounting for the inter-species difference functionally. Finally, we found that patients with cholestatic itch have significantly higher plasma bile acid levels compared to non-itchy patients and the bile acid levels significantly decreased after itch relief. This elevated bile acid level in itchy patients is sufficient to activate MRGPRX4. Taken together, our data strongly suggest that MRGPRX4 is a novel bile acid receptor that likely underlies cholestatic itch, providing a promising new drug target for anti-itch therapies.

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