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January 1988

Aquagenic Pruritus: Water-Induced Activation of Acetylcholinesterase

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Dermatology (Dr Bircher) and Pathology (Dr Meier-Ruge), University of Basel, Switzerland.

Arch Dermatol. 1988;124(1):84-89. doi:10.1001/archderm.1988.01670010048020

• Four patients with aquagenic pruritus (AP), one patient with polycythemia rubra vera, one patient with cold urticaria, and three normal control volunteers were studied to better understand the pathophysiology of water-induced itching. Punch biopsy specimens were taken before and after water contact; the specimens were immediately frozen, sectioned, and stained histochemically for acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity. This was localized in the nerve fibers surrounding eccrine sweat glands and was quantified by microspectrophotometry. In AP and polycythemia rubra vera after water exposure a significantly increased AChE activity suggesting acetylcholine release was observed, whereas in the patient with cold urticaria and the controls, a significant decrease was noted. Two related patients with AP had an inherited abnormality of serum cholinesterase, which, however, had no obvious correlation with their particular disease. The proof of AChE activation might support the clinical diagnosis and indicate a hypothetical involvement of eccrine sweat glands in the pathogenesis of AP.

(Arch Dermatol 1988;124:84-89)