Background: Narcolepsy with cataplexy is associated with a loss of orexin/hypocretin. It is speculated that an autoimmune process kills the orexin-producing neurons, but these cells may survive yet fail to produce orexin.
Objective: To examine whether other markers of the orexin neurons are lost in narcolepsy with cataplexy.
Methods: We used immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization to examine the expression of orexin, neuronal activity-regulated pentraxin (NARP), and prodynorphin in hypothalami from five control and two narcoleptic individuals.
Results: In the control hypothalami, at least 80% of the orexin-producing neurons also contained prodynorphin mRNA and NARP. In the patients with narcolepsy, the number of cells producing these markers was reduced to about 5 to 10% of normal.
Conclusions: Narcolepsy with cataplexy is likely caused by a loss of the orexin-producing neurons. In addition, loss of dynorphin and neuronal activity-regulated pentraxin may contribute to the symptoms of narcolepsy.