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I'm doing a keynote presentation on narcolepsy and I was wondering if you could briefly answer the following questions.
What does your current research on narcolepsy entail?
How is this research helping to find a cure or better understanding of the disease?
How is any research on narcolepsy being funded? And lastly, what are the future prospects for finding a cure?
Question Date: 2005-03-12
Answer 1:

I am not a narcolepsy researcher but I do know that a lot has been done to understand this disease and it has been shown that it is actually abnormalities in human brains that are the cause of most human narcolepsy. By studying the brains of deceased people with and without narcolepsy, researchers at UCLA and Stanford University have shown there are many different kinds of cells in the brain, with each kind containing different chemicals.

They found that the number of brain cells containing the chemical named hypocretin (also called orexin) was reduced by 85-95% in people with narcolepsy. They also found that neurologically normal individuals have about 70,000 hypocretin containing cells, whereas the narcoleptic individuals have between 3,000 and 10,000 of these cells.

The brain region where hypocretin cells are located is called the hypothalamus and is located at the base of the brain. They also found that scar tissue was present in regions of the hypothalamus where hypocretin brain cells used to be. This indicates that the cells were present at birth and died later. It is likely that they died at or shortly before the time of symptom onset.

Scientists are trying to determine the cause of the death of these important hypocretin cells. They are also trying to understand why symptoms vary between people with narcolepsy. Researchers do know that treatments with stimulants and antidepressants work because they activate systems in the brain that act to replace the missing hypocretin containing brain cells.

This type of research would be funded and organized by a number of different government and private organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH- National Center on Sleep Disorders Research), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Sleep Foundation and the Center for Narcolepsy Research.

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