Vi siete mai chiesti perché ci si gratta? Ma soprattutto perché, dopo, si prova un senso di piacere così gratificante?

La risposta proviene da studi abbastanza recenti (2009) effettuati dall’Università del Minnesota e pubblicati su Nature Neuroscience. I ricercatori affermano che la colpa del prurito sarebbe da attribuire ad alcuni neuroni “speciali”, una sorta di “neuroni del prurito” localizzati nel tratto ipotalamico della colonna vertebrale (Spinothalamic Tract Neurons). Quando la pelle è sottoposta a sostanze irritanti, tali neuroni diventano iperattivi e producono sostanze per la trasmissione della sensazione di prurito stessa, che ci spinge a grattarci e a rilassare tali neuroni “impazziti”.

Ma perché tutto ciò ci provoca sollievo? Se lo sono chiesti anche i ricercatori del Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, che con tecniche di brain imaging, hanno osservato cosa accade nel cervello di una persona che si gratta in risposta al prurito. È stato osservato che le aree del cervello associate a ricordi traumatici o comunque a esperienze dolorose vengono meno stimolate mentre ci si gratta. Tali aree corrispondono al cingolato anteriore (associata alle esperienze sensoriali poco gradite) e il cingolato posteriore (associata alla memoria). È un po’ come se ci dimenticassimo dei nostri problemi.
Lo studio ha inoltre evidenziato altre aree diventano iperattive durante l’atto: la corteccia somatosensoriale secondaria (attiva nella sensazione di dolore) e la corteccia prefrontale (associata a il prurito sia cessato.
Naturalmente, continuare a grattarsi con foga è dannoso per la pelle perché la danneggia, ma conoscere i meccanismi neuronali che stanno alla base di tali atteggiamenti potrebbe portare, in un prossimo futuro, alla messa a punto di farmaci che agiscano sulla zona cerebrale.


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