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Narcolepsy & The Immune System

June 25, 2009

Researchers discover that narcolepsy is an auto-immune disease that attacks the brain.


Waking up from narcolepsy. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People who suffer from narcolepsy have trouble staying awake during normal daily activities, and when excited, they can become weak or even temporarily paralyzed. Sleep researcher Dr. Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University says the disease takes a toll on patients.

DR. EMMANUEL MIGNOT (Stanford University):
There’s even a risk of accident if they’re driving amd they don’t know they have narcolepsy. And they have to take multiple naps during the day, and in addition to that, they often don’t sleep well at night.

Mignot says narcoleptics lack a brain chemical called hypocretin orexin, which helps people stay awake. He and his colleagues recently discovered that narcoleptics fall asleep because t-cells from the immune system attack the cells in the brain that produce the chemical. He says in future, drugs that block the destruction of these cells could stop the condition from progressing. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.