Does a lack of hypocretin peptide cause narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent, uncontrollable, brief episodes of daytime sleep. It affects around 1 in 2000 individuals and although presently incurable, is treated with amphetamines and other stimulant drugs. After examining the brains of narcoleptic patients, a team of scientists from Stanford University has uncovered a potential mechanism underlying the condition, which may lead to new forms of therapy Nature Medicine (Vol 6, No. 9, September 2000).
Discovered only two years ago, hypocretin peptides, also known as orexins, are neurotransmitters that are produced by neurons in the hypothalamus region of the brain. They have been shown to stimulate appetite and feeding and to regulate the state of arousal. Through post-mortem brain analyses, Emmanuel Mignot and colleagues have found that there is a generalised loss of hypocretins in the brains of narcoleptic patients. They also revealed a mutation of the hypocretin gene in a single patient with particularly early onset narcolepsy. The mutation impaires protein transport and processing.
If, as these results suggest, hypocretin deficiency is involved in narcolepsy, drugs that increase the levels of this neurotransmitter in the brain are potentially new medicines to treat the condition.
Dr. Emmanuel Mignot
Center for Narcolepsy
Stanford University Medical School
1201 Welch Road
Stanford, CA 94305-5485
Phone: 415 725 6517
Fax: 415 498 7761
Email Address: email@example.com
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