Narcolepsy is a disorder that disrupts the lives of its sufferers by making them excessively sleepy, and unable to stay awake, against their will.
This may sound like a fairly benign problem, especially to those who struggle with insomnia and may think that sleep at any time is a good thing.
But PubMed said that even aside from the unwanted sleep periods, narcoleptics may also be subject to hallucinations while awake.
Sleep paralysis may also occur, a condition that makes it impossible to move falling asleep or while waking up.
Cataplexy, an unexpected and abrupt lack of muscle tone can cause devastating problems, and can be brought on be anger, laughter or intense emotion.
These symptoms can be enormous challenges for the narcoleptic, potentially making a normal life impossible. ScienceDaily.com said that narcolepsy affects about 3 million people around the world.
According to a May 6, 2009 article on USnews.com, research has uncovered possible genetic causes for narcolepsy.
Research led by Mignot Emmanuel Mignot, M.D., a sleep researcher, expert in narcolepsy and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator from Stanford University School of Medicine, indicated that narcolepsy may be linked with a gene that encodes T cell receptor alpha.
T cell receptor alpha has interaction with HLA proteins. An immune reaction is the end result.
Masashi Yanagisawa, neuroscientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas said that this research potentially offers confirmation that narcolepsy is an autoimmune condition.
The study showed that narcoleptics were liable to carry different genetic markers as compared to healthy people. Narcoleptics often had one of three SNPs which are genetic markers. These were found in the genome, where the gene for T cell receptor alpha is located.
This is potentially only part of the answer to the question as to how people get narcolepsy. People with this version of the T cell receptor gene still only stand a 1.5 percent risk of becoming narcoleptic.
In an Oct. 24, 2009 ScienceNews article, streptococcus antibodies were shown to appear at higher levels in the blood of narcoleptics than in the blood of control subjects. This may mean that the narcoleptics' immune systems were preparing to attack infection.
Antibody levels in healthy people will generally go back down within a few months. In narcoleptics, however, the high antibody levels can continue for three years.
Adi Aran, M.D., a researcher from Stanford, said that streptococcus infection may be a possible trigger for narcolepsy.
This research was written up in the Oct. 24 edition of ScienceNews.
According to an Aug. 23, 2011 article on ScienceDaily.com, research out of China has discovered that the changing seasons related to outbreaks of upper airway infections and H1N1 may correlate to the emergence of narcolepsy. The study was spearheaded by Mignot.
It was found that the number of cases of narcolepsy hit a peak five to seven months after the occurrences of H1N1 as well as flu and cold infections have peaked. Mignot said that it is now thought that these winter ills may trigger narcolepsy.
Research results were published in the online Annals of Neurology on Aug. 22, 2011.
In 2009, Mignot and fellow researchers conducted studies indicating that narcolepsy is an autoimmune condition. A combination of genetic predisposition and environmental conditions may deliver the blow to the nervous system culminating in narcolepsy.
While research did not outline direct cause and effect, results strongly suggest that there is a significant link between seasonal infections and narcolepsy.
Funding for this research came from the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, the National Institutes of Health, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Sino-German Center for Research Promotion.