Mechanisms of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder in which patients suffer from sudden bouts of drowsiness and sleep during the day. In addition to these diurnal sleep episodes, patients also experience poor sleeping quality at night, which would entail frequent waking. This results in a narcoleptic sleeping around the same amount of time as one without narcolepsy . Narcolepsy is also accompanied by cataplexy, which is a sudden loss in muscle control. This renders a person limp or even immobile, and these cataplexic attacks have many triggers. The most common ones, however, are laughter and strong, sudden emotion, such as excitement .
Although the causes and mechanisms of narcolepsy are not totally understood, research indicates that it is hereditary, and it has been found that cataplexy is linked with a specific HLA allele in the MHC DQ region . However, it should be noted that most individuals with this haplotype do not suffer from narcolepsy. This indicates that the HLA gene alone does not determine whether an individual will suffer from narcolepsy . To this end, J. Nakayama, M. Miura, et. al. ran a genome-linkage search among eight narcoleptic Japanese families. The results suggested that chromosome 4p13-q21 is implicated in the cause of narcolepsy and cataplexy, along with HLA .
Another study by S. Pavel, R. Goldstein, and M. Petrescu found that administering both melatonin and arginine vasotocin (AVT) to three narcoleptic patients dramatically increased REM sleep, by as much as 100% . As both AVT and melatonin are produced by the pineal gland in humans, this study’s results heavily suggest that an impaired or otherwise abnormally-functioning pineal gland contributes to the onset of narcolepsy.
Research, such as that conducted by Pavel, et. al., has led to the development of many treatments for narcolepsy. For example, AVT administered intra-nasally and melatonin administered intravenously yielded the...