A non-canonical retina-ipRGCs-SCN-PVT visual pathway for mediating contagious itch behavior

Fang Gao, Jun Ma, Yao Qing Yu, Xiao Fei Gao, Yang Bai, Yi Sun, Juan Liu, Xianyu Liu, Devin M. Barry, Steven Wilhelm, Tyler Piccinni-Ash, Na Wang, Dongyang Liu, Rachel A. Ross, Yan Hao, Xu Huang, Jin Jing Jia, Qianyi Yang, Hao Zheng, Johan van NispenJun Chen, Hui Li, Jiayi Zhang, Yun Qing Li, Zhou Feng Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Contagious itch behavior informs conspecifics of adverse environment and is crucial for the survival of social animals. Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and its receptor (GRPR) in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus mediates contagious itch behavior in mice. Here, we show that intrinsically photosensitive retina ganglion cells (ipRGCs) convey visual itch information, independently of melanopsin, from the retina to GRP neurons via PACAP-PAC1R signaling. Moreover, GRPR neurons relay itch information to the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT). Surprisingly, neither the visual cortex nor superior colliculus is involved in contagious itch. In vivo calcium imaging and extracellular recordings reveal contagious itch-specific neural dynamics of GRPR neurons. Thus, we propose that the retina-ipRGC-SCN-PVT pathway constitutes a previously unknown visual pathway that probably evolved for motion vision that encodes salient environmental cues and enables animals to imitate behaviors of conspecifics as an anticipatory mechanism to cope with adverse conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111444
JournalCell Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 4 2022


  • CP: Neuroscience
  • GRP
  • GRPR
  • SCN
  • contagious itch behavior
  • ipRGCs
  • itch stimuli
  • neural dynamics
  • scratching motion
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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