Background: Metformin ameliorates non-histamine-mediated itch. We have recently reported that the nitric oxide (NO) pathway is involved in chloroquine (CQ)-induced scratching behavior. Here we investigated the involvement of the NO pathway in the antipruritic effect of metformin on CQ-induced itch. Methods: Metformin (5–200 mg/kg, given intraperitoneally [i.p.]) was injected 4 h before CQ (400 µg/site, given intradermally [i.d.]) or compound 48/80 (100 µg/site, i.d.). A nonspecific nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitor, NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME; 1 and 10 mg/kg, i.p.), or an NO precursor, L-arginine (10 and 100 mg/kg, i.p.) was administered 30 min before injection of CQ. A neural NOS (nNOS) inhibitor, 7-nitroindazole (7-NI; 1 and 10 nmol/site, i.d.) was concurrently administered with CQ. The scratching behavior was recorded for 30 min following the injection of CQ. We studied the changes in skin and spinal nitrite levels after treatments. Results: Our results showed that metformin (100 and 200 mg/kg) significantly reduced the CQ-induced scratching behavior but not the compound 48/80-induced scratching behavior. L-Arginine inhibited the antipruritic effect of metformin, while L-NAME and 7-NI significantly potentiated the inhibitory effects of a subeffective dose of metformin on the CQ-induced scratching behavior. The skin but not the spinal nitrite level was significantly increased after CQ administration. The elevated cutaneous nitrite level was reversed by effective doses of either metformin or 7-NI, but not by the subeffective doses of metformin + 7-NI. Conclusion: Acute injection of metformin significantly inhibits CQ-induced scratching behavior. This effect is mediated through inhibition of the NO pathway, especially by inhibiting the dermal nNOS enzyme.

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