Missing Narcoleptins Cause Narcolepsy – An Important New Discovery in Sleep Disorders Research
A recent article by Dr. Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University
reveals that researchers have made a breakthrough in narcolepsy
research. The Stanford team discovered that most narcoleptics
have no hypocretin-1 molecules (also called orexin A) in their
cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
Dr. Mignot explains that hypocretins (orexins) are molecules
located in a sub-region of the hypothalamus brain structure which are especially important for the regulation of appetite. Two teams of researchers discovered hypocretins around the same time; the second research group calls them orexins. Mignot points out in his article that one scientist has suggested they now change the name to “narcoleptins”!
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS GOOD NEWS MEAN?
1. A TEST CAN BE DEVELOPED TO HELP DIAGNOSE NARCOLEPSY
To date, all of the normal individuals tested have nacoleptins in their CSF. However, almost all of the narcoleptic patients do not. This is an important finding because it means that a test could be used to help diagnose narcolepsy. Dr. Mignot suggests that this test would be more accurate than the HLA typing test currently used to aid in the diagnosis.
Right now, the only way to test for missing narcoleptins is to perform a painful procedure called a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). Researchers hope to develop an easier method for testing, such as measuring narcoleptin levels in blood.
2. NEW TREATMENTS
Now that researchers know that missing narcoleptins are the cause, they can develop treatments which will replace the missing molecule. The current drugs available for narcolepsy work on the symptoms, but not the cause. Dr. Mignot says that an ideal treatment would be the creation of a drug that mimics hypocretin. Unfortunately, it takes a long time for drugs to be developed and tested. He predicts that, at best, a narcoleptin drug could be on the market in 5 to 10 years.
3. AN ABILITY TO IDENTIFY THOSE AT HIGHER RISK
Dr. Mignot points out that, although most narcoleptics do not have a family history of the sleep disorder, a narcoleptin test may make it possible to better identify family members with a higher risk. As a result, one day it may be possible to prevent the development of narcolepsy.
4. AN INCREASE IN NARCOLEPSY AWARENESS
These latest discoveries will, most importantly, increase narcolepsy awareness. Dr. Mignot predicts that federal funding agencies will more readily fund research for narcolepsy since it has now joined the ranks of medical problems scientists are starting to understand. In turn, drug and biotechnology companies will be more likely to work in the area.
5. MORE RESEARCH WILL BE DONE
Now that the cause has been identified, many more skilled researchers are going to study narcoleptins. This will increase the chance that a solution will be found. A cure may involve a similar process to the one used for other diseases such as Parkinson’s. In Parkinson’s there is a missing molecule called dopamine. Cells which synthesize dopamine are transplanted into Parkinson’s patients. Similarly, in narcoleptics a cure may involve transplanting cells that could produce narcoleptins in the brain. In addition, narcoleptic patients may also one day benefit from gene therapy.
Thanks to L. Orr, BA, RPSGT for her help with this article.