Research ArticleAddiction

Opiates increase the number of hypocretin-producing cells in human and mouse brain and reverse cataplexy in a mouse model of narcolepsy

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Science Translational Medicine  27 Jun 2018:
Vol. 10, Issue 447, eaao4953
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao4953

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Opiate addiction and narcolepsy: Opposite sides of the same coin?

The neurological mechanisms that maintain opiate addiction and prevent long-term withdrawal are not well understood. In a new study, Thannickal et al. found that human heroin addicts have, on average, 54% more hypocretin-producing neurons than do neurologically normal control individuals. They show that a similar increase in hypocretin-producing neurons could be induced in mice through long-term morphine administration. This long-lasting increase in hypocretin neurons may be responsible for maintaining addiction. Narcolepsy is caused by a loss of hypocretin-producing neurons. Morphine administration restored the population of hypocretin neurons in hypocretin cell–depleted mice back to normal numbers and decreased cataplexy in narcoleptic animals. Induction of specific long-term changes in neuropeptide production, outlasting the half-life of the administered drugs, may be useful in treating diseases characterized by loss of neurons producing these neuropeptides.