The causes of narcolepsy are still poorly understood.
Narcolepsy is due to the destruction of some very specific neurons located at the base of the brain. The neurons that make the neurotransmitter called hypocretin are partially or totally destroyed. The disease affects only these neurons, it does not affect other parts of the body. Hypocretin plays a very important role in maintaining wakefulness and structuring sleep.The cause of the destruction of these neurons is not yet known. It is likely that this is an autoimmune mechanism, that is to say, an inappropriate reaction of the subject's immune system that will mistakenly attack elements of his own body.
Indeed, the mutation of a gene involved in the immune system has been found in people suffering from narcolepsy. Moreover, a scientific study assumes that the decline of hypocretin-producing neurons would be caused by the increase of hormone producing hormone cells (key molecule of the immune system).
To make a diagnosis of narcolepsy, hypocretin can be found in the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the central nervous system). The doctor may perform a lumbar puncture to test this substance. The specialist physician for this type of disorder is a neurologist, and more specifically a sleep specialist.
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