Narcolepsy was first identified almost 130 years ago, but it was only 15 years ago that it was identified as a neurodegenerative disease linked to a loss of orexin neurons in the brain. It is unclear what causes the orexin neurons to die, but our strategy has been to place the gene for orexin into surrogate neurons in the validated mouse models of narcolepsy, and test whether it can block narcolepsy symptoms, such as cataplexy. In both the orexin knockout and the orexin-ataxin-3 mouse models of narcolepsy we have found that cataplexy can be blocked if the surrogate neurons are part of the circuit responsible for cataplexy. We have also determined that the orexin gene can be inserted into surrogate neurons in the amygdala to block emotion-induced cataplexy. Through the use of optogenetics we anticipate that it will be possible to preemptively block cataplexy.
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