We’re Taking the First Steps Toward a Cure for Narcolepsy
In other settings, the orexins act more like hormones, working further afield in the brain. This is how orexins influence other brain chemicals, including dopamine (essential for the processing of reward, in planning and for motivation), serotonin (strongly associated with mood and implicated in depression) and histamine (an important alerting signal).
“In most other neural networks, there are parallel and multiple layers of security,” says de Lecea, so if something isn’t working properly, there are systems that can step in and pick up the slack. In the case of the orexins, however, there appears to be little or no backup at all. So, manipulating this system produces the kind of clear-cut response that scientists can work with. “It is a brilliant model for understanding neural networks more generally,” says de Lecea.
What we now know about orexins also helps explain why losing just a few tens of thousands of cells should result in a disabling, multi-symptomatic disorder like narcolepsy—something that messes with wakefulness and sleep, body temperature, metabolism, feeding, motivation and mood. These proteins are giving us a privileged insight into how the human brain does what it does.
All this makes the orexin story sound like the archetypal double helix-like tale of scientific discovery, the perfect illustration of how science works. There’s an underlying puzzle (narcolepsy), an origin story (Monique), foresight (Dement), ambition (Mignot), technological developments (genetics), a photogenic animal (Dobermans), a race (with Yanagisawa), it looks like science (optogenetics) and there’s a still-higher purpose (sleep and the brain).
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13