Background: The neuropeptides hypocretin-1 and -2 (hcrt-1 and -2, also known as orexin A and B) are crucially involved in the regulation of sleep/wake states. On the one hand, the sleep-wake disorder narcolepsy can be caused by an hcrt-1 deficiency. On the other, intracerebral administration of hcrt-1 produces an increase in wakefulness at the expense of REM sleep in normal and narcoleptic animals. In humans intranasal administration has been shown to effectively deliver neuropeptides directly to the central nervous system. We hypothesised that the intranasal application of hcrt-1 increases wakefulness and reduces REM sleep in the natural human hcrt-1 deficiency narcolepsy with cataplexy.
Methods: In this double-blind, random-order crossover, placebo-controlled, within-subject design study we administered human recombinant hcrt-1 (435 nmol) intranasally to eight subjects with narcolepsy with cataplexy before night sleep, followed by standard polysomnography.
Results: Although intranasal administration of hcrt-1 had no statistically significant effect on nocturnal wakefulness, we found that it reduced REM sleep quantity, particularly during the second half of the recording. Furthermore, intranasal hcrt-1 had a clear REM sleep stabilising effect and led to significantly reduced direct wake to REM transitions.
Conclusion: In this pilot study we found, first, evidence that the intranasal administration of hcrt-1 has functional effects on sleep in narcolepsy with cataplexy. Our results may encourage the use of the intranasal approach in further studies on hypocretinergic sleep regulation and might also contribute to the future development of a causal treatment for narcolepsy with cataplexy.
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