Recent Discovery Suggests an Autoimmune Origin for Narcolepsy

According to a story from Neuroscience News, a team of researchers based out of the University of Copenhagen have made an intriguing discovery that could give new insight into the cause of narcolepsy, a rare disorder that affects a person’s ability to control their sleep cycle. The study focused on narcolepsy type 1, which is the most common form.

About Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects sleep. Patients with narcolepsy have a decreased ability to regulate their cycles of sleeping and wakefulness. The exact cause of narcolepsy is not well known. There are a number of risk factors for the condition however, such as family history, exposure to pesticides, or prior brain injury, such as a stroke or tumor. The most well known symptom of narcolepsy is excessive sleepiness during the day, often to the extent that a patient may fall asleep suddenly during their regular activities. This can occur even after a full night of sleep; patients are unable to sleep as deeply as an unaffected person. Other symptoms include cataplexy, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, insomnia, and unexpected weight gain. There is no cure for narcolepsy. Treatments for the condition include stimulants such as amphetamines and modafinil. Most patients cannot control their symptoms entirely. To learn more about narcolepsy, click here.

About The Research Findings

There has long been suspicion among some experts that narcolepsy could be the result of an autoimmune reaction, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly causes damage or illness to the body itself. The researchers detected the presence of autoreactive cytotoxic CD8 T-cells in patients with the condition. These cells are capable of detecting that neurons that produce hypocretin, which plays a critical role in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle.

If these T-cells can identify these neurons, then there is a chance that they could be destroying them as well, thereby throwing of the sleep-wake cycle and causing narcolepsy. However, there is no definitive proof that this is the case yet. Another factor is that while these autoreactive cells were found in almost all of the patients tested, these same cells were also present in some of the participants in the control group who did not have narcolepsy.

Researchers are slowly closing in on the cause of narcolepsy, and these findings are another indicator that an autoimmune response could be a major part of it. However, more research will be necessary before the implications of these findings can be decisively confirmed.

Check out the original study here.


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