Neuroimaging correlates of narcolepsy with cataplexy: A systematic review

Neurosci Res. 2019 May:142:16-29. doi: 10.1016/j.neures.2018.03.005. Epub 2018 Mar 23.


Recent developments in neuroimaging techniques have advanced our understanding of biological mechanisms underpinning narcolepsy. We used MEDLINE to retrieve neuroimaging studies to compare patients with narcolepsy and healthy controls. Thirty-seven studies were identified and demonstrated several replicated abnormalities: (1) gray matter reductions in superior frontal, superior and inferior temporal, and middle occipital gyri, hypothalamus, amygdala, insula, hippocampus, cingulate cortex, thalamus, and nucleus accumbens, (2) decreased fractional anisotropy in white matter of fronto-orbital and cingulate area, (3) reduced brain metabolism or cerebral blood flow in middle and superior frontal, and cingulate cortex (4) increased activity in inferior frontal gyri, insula, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens, and (5) N-acetylaspartate/creatine-phosphocreatine level reduction in hypothalamus. In conclusion, all the replicated findings are still controversial due to the limitations such as heterogeneity or size of the samples and lack of multimodal imaging or follow-up. Thus, future neuroimaging studies should employ multimodal imaging methods in a large sample size of patients with narcolepsy and consider age, duration of disease, age at onset, severity, human leukocyte antigen type, cerebrospinal fluid hypocretin levels, and medication intake in order to elucidate possible neuroimaging characteristic of narcolepsy and identify therapeutic targets.

Keywords: Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI); Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); Positron emission tomography (PET); Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS); Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT); Voxel-based morphometry (VBM).

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cataplexy / diagnostic imaging
  • Cataplexy / metabolism*
  • Cataplexy / pathology*
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Narcolepsy / diagnostic imaging
  • Narcolepsy / metabolism*
  • Narcolepsy / pathology*
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology