While the precise cause of narcolepsy has previously challenged researchers, scientists from Tel Aviv University suggest that the mechanism causing the disease could be due to a particular autoimmune process in the brain. Their work is described in a new study in Pharmaceutical Research.

Professor Yehuda Shoenfeld, along with researchers from the Sleep Control Project at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Psychiatry in Japan, and colleagues designed a study to evaluate a particular autoimmune process that triggers the specific loss of orexin neurons that maintain the balance between sleep and wakefulness in the brain. A prior study by the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Psychiatry group had found an autoantibody presence that attacked tribbles containing orexin neurons, so the research teams isolated the specific antibodies and injected them directly into laboratory mice.

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After monitoring their behavior and sleep patterns for months, an increased number of sleep attacks and irregular patterns of sleep were observed. Although mice normally circle around prior to going to sleep, the mice dropped off to sleep and awoke two minutes later.

Presently, the teams are attempting to locate the area of the brain to which the targeting autoantibodies bind and hope to gain further understanding of narcolepsy as a potential autoimmune disease.

For more information visit aftau.org.