Narcolepsy May Be the Result of an Autoimmune Response

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New research suggests that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disorder, in which a trigger signals the loss of orexin neurons, cells that maintain a balance between sleep and wakefulness.

Certain antibodies in the brain appear to attack tribbles, small granules of brain cells that contain orexin. Overall, patients and animals with narcolepsy have less orexin in the brain, resulting in the imbalance.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University isolated antibodies and injected them into mice. After several months, the mice were experiencing sleep attacks and irregular sleep patterns.

The findings build on previous knowledge of narcolepsy occurrences related to autoimmune responses. For instance, in Finland in 2009 after the public was given H1N1 vaccinations, the incidence of narcolepsy jumped to 16 times the average. Additionally, the group of antibodies that attack tribbles was discovered by a team of researchers from Japan, who assisted in the mouse model.

The researchers hope that identifying the mechanism behind narcolepsy will lead to better treatment and eventually a cure. They now plan to focus on identifying the area of the brain where the antibodies attack the orexin-producing cells. 

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Narcolepsy May Be the Result of an Autoimmune Response

Around 3 million people worldwide suffer from narcolepsy or bouts of sleepiness and sleep attacks that can affect their ability to have a normal life. There is no cure for the disorder, and few clues about its causes. But now, a new study suggests it could be an autoimmune disease.

In the journal Pharmacological Research, Yehuda Shoenfeld, a professor at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and a world expert in autoimmune disease, and colleagues describe how they found an autoimmune process in the brain that appears to trigger narcolepsy.

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