Manabu Nakamura, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, and doctoral student Chad Stroud developed a mouse model that allows researchers to knock out genes and create deficiencies of certain fats.
"In experiments with mice, we knocked out a gene responsible for an enzyme that helps the body to make arachidonic acid," Nakamura said in a statement.
"Without arachidonic acid, the mice developed severe ulcerative dermatitis. The animals were very itchy, they scratched themselves continuously and they developed a lot of bleeding sores."
When arachidonic acid -- polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid found in meat, eggs, dairy -- was added to the diet of the mice, the itching disappeared, the study said.
The findings are published in the Journal of Lipid Research.