Earl Carstens

Earl Carstens

Position Title
Distinguished Professor

Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences

279 Briggs Hall

Profile Introduction

Functional organization of itch, pain and chemesthesis sensory systems

Research Interests

Functional organization of itch, pain and chemesthesis sensory systems

Our laboratory investigates neural mechanisms of itch, pain, temperature and oral and cutaneous chemical irritation (chemesthesis). We employ a variety of methodological approaches including human psychophysics, animal behavior, neuroanatomy, and electrophysiology including in vivo and in vitro neuronal recording and cell imaging, and optogenetics. Our laboratory has collaborations with other researchers throughout the world. 

Until recently, the sensation of itch has received little attention. We use behavioral and neurophysiological approaches to address the question of whether or not itch and pain sensations are conveyed by separate neural pathways and how these sensory qualities interact. Of particular interest is the ability of several itch mediators (proteases, serotonin, histamine) to elicit prolonged scratching behavior in rodents and excitation of peripheral sensory neurons (investigated using calcium imaging) and superficial spinal dorsal horn neurons (investigated using neurophysiological recordings) over comparable time courses.  We have recently begun investigating descending modulation of itch transmission from the brain using optogenetic and electrophysiological approaches.  

Our lab also has a longstanding interest in central nervous mechanisms underlying oral irritation. We employ a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the sensory effects of irritant chemicals, such as capsaicin (from red chili peppers), menthol (from mint), cinnamic aldehyde (from cinnamon), mustard oil, and carbonation and other agents causing tingle, with a focus on transduction mechanisms involving  thermosensitive TRP (transient receptor potential) ion channels. 

Grad Group Affiliations

  • Food Science Graduate Group
  • Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology
  • Neuroscience

Specialties / Focus

  • Neurophysiology


  • NPB 100 NPB 100 (neurobiology); MCIP 210B (neurophysiology), Fall, Winter
  • NPB 110B Neurobiology Foundations, Winter


  • Carstens Lab
    • Carstens Lab: Earl Carstens, Mirela Iodi Carstens
    • Taylor Follansbee

Honors and Awards

  • Fulbright Scholar Award, Romania, 2014-15
  • Fulbright Scholar Award, Germany, 1995-96
  • Fulbright Scholar Award, Germany, 1987-88
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, 1977-78
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, 1987

    Professional Societies

    • Soc. for Neuroscience; Assoc. for Chemoreception Sciences; Intl. Assoc. for the Study of Pain; Int. Forum for the Study of Itch (currently serving as President)


    • 1972 BS (Biology) Cornell University
    • 1977 PhD (Neurobiology) University of North Carolina


    Carstens E, Schmelz M, Hunter HJA, Lerner EA, Misery L, Steinhoff M, Yosipovitch G, Ständer S.  FRT - FONDATION RENE TOURAINE: An International Foundation For Dermatology.  Exp Dermatol. 26:972-985, 2017.

    Horiuchi M, Suzuki-Horiuchi Y, Akiyama T, Itoh A, Pleasure D, , Itoh T.Differing intrinsic biological properties between forebrain and spinal oligodendroglial lineage cells.. 142(3):378-391, 2017

    Carstens E, Akiyama T.  Central Mechanisms of Itch.  Curr Probl Dermatol. 50:11-7, 2016.

    Akiyama T, Nagamine M, Davoodi A, M. Ivanov, Iodi Carstens M, Carstens E.  Innocuous warming enhances peripheral serotonergic itch signaling and evokes enhanced responses in serotonin-responsive dorsal horn neurons in the mouse.  J Neurophysiol 117:251-259,  2017. 

    Akiyama T, Carstens E.  Neural processing of itch.  Neuroscience 250:697-714, 2013. 

    Akiyama T, Tominaga M, Takamori K, , Iodi Carstens M, Carstens E.  Roles of glutamate, substance P and gastrin releasing peptide as spinal neurotransmitters of histaminergic and non-histaminergic itch.  Pain 155(1):80-92, 2014. 

    Cevikbas F, Wang X, Akiyama T, Kepmkes C, Savinko T, Antal A, Kukova G, Buhl T, Ikoma A, Buddenkotte J, Soumelis V, Feld M, Alenius H, Dillon SR, Carstens E, Homey B, Basbaum AI, Steinhoff M.  A Sensory Neuron-expressed Interleukin-31 Receptor Mediates T helper Cell-dependent Itch: Involvement of TRPV1 and TRPA1.  Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 133(2):448-60, 2014.  

    Boucher Y, Simons CT, Carstens MI, Carstens E.  Effects of gustatory nerve transection and/or ovariectomy on oral capsaicin avoidance in rats.  Pain 155(4):814-20, 2014

    Akiyama T, Nagamine M, Carstens MI, Carstens E.   Behavioral model of itch, alloknesis, pain and allodynia in the lower hindlimb and correlative responses of lumbar dorsal horn neurons in the mouse.  Neuroscience 266:38-46, 2014.  

    Klein AH, Joe CL, Davoodi A, Takechi K, Carstens MI, Carstens E.  Eugenol and carvacrol excite first- and second-order trigeminal neurons and enhance their heat-evoked responses.  Neuroscience 271C:45-55, 2014.  

    Kido-Nakahara M, Buddenkotte J, Kempkes C, Ikoma A, Cevikbas F, Akiyama T, Nunes F, Seeliger S, Hasdemir B, Mess C, Buhl T, Sulk M, Müller FU, Metze D, Bunnett NW, Bhargava A, Carstens E, Furue M, Steinhoff M.  Neural peptidase endothelin-converting enzyme 1 regulates endothelin 1-induced pruritus.  J Clin Invest. 124(6):2683-95, 2014. 

    Akiyama T, Tominaga M, Takamori K, Iodi Carstens M, Carstens E.  Role of spinal bombesin-responsive neurons in non-histaminergic itch.  J Neurophysiol 112(9):2283-9, 2014. 

    Akiyama T, Carstens MI, Piecha D, Steppan S, Carstens E. Nalfurafine Suppresses Pruritogen- and Touch-evoked Scratching Behavior in Models of Acute and Chronic Itch in Mice.  Acta Derm Venereol. 95(2):147-50, 2015. 

    Dunn TN; Akiyama T; Lee HW; Kim JB; Knotts TA; Smith SR; Sears DD; Carstens E; Adams SH.  Evaluation of the synuclein-γ (SNCG) gene as a PPARγ target in murine adipocytes, dorsal root ganglia somatosensory neurons, and human adipose tissue.  PlosOne 10(3):e0115830, 2015.  

    Akiyama T, Nguyen T, Curtis E, Nishida K, Devireddy J, Delahanty J, Carstens MI, Carstens E.  A central role for spinal dorsal horn neurons that express neurokinin-1 receptors in chronic itch.  Pain 156(7):1240-1246, 2015.  

    Akiyama T, Curtis E, Nguyen T, Iodi Carstens M, Carstens E. Anatomical evidence of pruriceptive trigeminothalamic and trigeminoparabrachial projection neurons in mice.  J. Comp. Neurol. 524(2):244-56, 2016. 

    Klein AH, Trannyguen M, Joe CL, Iodi Carstens M, Carstens E.  Thermosensitive transient receptor potential (TRP) channel agonists and their role in mechanical, thermal and nociceptive sensations as assessed using animal models.  Chemosens Percept 8(2):96-108, 2015.

    Akiyama T, Nagamine M, Davoodi A, Iodi Carstens M, Cevikbas F, Steinhoff M, Carstens E.  Intradermal Intradermal endothelin-1 excites bombesin-responsive superficial dorsal horn neurons in the mouse. J Neurophysiol 114(4):2528-34, 2015.

    Carstens E.  Many parallels between itch and pain research.  Eur J Pain. 2015 Sep 28. 

    Akiyama T, Ivanov M, Nagamine M, Davoodi A, Iodi Carstens M, Ikoma A, Cevikbas F, Kempkes C, Buddenkotte J, Steinhoff M, Carstens E.   Involvement of TRPV4 in serotonin-evoked scratching.  J Invest Dermatol. 2015 Oct 1.