Cerebrospinal Fluid Hypocretin-1 (Orexin-A) Level Fluctuates with Season and Correlates with Day Length

PLoS One. 2016 Mar 23;11(3):e0151288. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151288. eCollection 2016.


The hypocretin/orexin neuropeptides (hcrt) are key players in the control of sleep and wakefulness evidenced by the fact that lack of hcrt leads to the sleep disorder Narcolepsy Type 1. Sleep disturbances are common in mood disorders, and hcrt has been suggested to be poorly regulated in depressed subjects. To study seasonal variation in hcrt levels, we obtained data on hcrt-1 levels in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from 227 human individuals evaluated for central hypersomnias at a Danish sleep center. The samples were taken over a 4 year timespan, and obtained in the morning hours, thus avoiding impact of the diurnal hcrt variation. Hcrt-1 concentration was determined in a standardized radioimmunoassay. Using biometric data and sleep parameters, a multivariate regression analysis was performed. We found that the average monthly CSF hcrt-1 levels varied significantly across the seasons following a sine wave with its peak in the summer (June-July). The amplitude was 19.9 pg hcrt/mL [12.8-26.9] corresponding to a 10.6% increase in midsummer compared to winter. Factors found to significantly predict the hcrt-1 values were day length, presence of snow, and proximity to the Christmas holiday season. The hcrt-1 values from January were much higher than predicted from the model, suggestive of additional factors influencing the CSF hcrt-1 levels such as social interaction. This study provides evidence that human CSF hcrt-1 levels vary with season, correlating with day length. This finding could have implications for the understanding of winter tiredness, fatigue, and seasonal affective disorder. This is the first time a seasonal variation of hcrt-1 levels has been shown, demonstrating that the hcrt system is, like other neurotransmitter systems, subjected to long term modulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Denmark
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orexins / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Seasons*


  • Orexins

Grant support

Funding for this work came from Lundbeckfunden, http://www.lundbeckfonden.com. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.