Journal Article

Abnormal activity in hypothalamus and amygdala during humour processing in human narcolepsy with cataplexy

Sophie Schwartz, Aurélie Ponz, Rositsa Poryazova, Esther Werth, Peter Boesiger, Ramin Khatami and Claudio L. Bassetti

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 131, issue 2, pages 514-522
Published in print February 2008 | ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online December 2007 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI:

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Narcolepsy with cataplexy (NC) is a complex sleep–wake disorder, which was recently found to be associated with a reduction or loss of hypocretin (HCRT, also called orexin). HCRT is a hypothalamic peptide implicated in the regulation of sleep/wake, motor and feeding functions. Cataplexy refers to episodes of sudden and transient loss of muscle tone triggered by strong, mostly positive emotions, such as hearing or telling jokes. Cataplexy is thought to reflect the recruitment of ponto-medullary mechanisms that normally underlie muscle atonia during REM-sleep. In contrast, the suprapontine brain mechanisms associated with the cataplectic effects of emotions in human narcolepsy with cataplexy remain essentially unknown. Here, we used event-related functional MRI to assess brain activity in 12 NC patients and 12 controls while they watched sequences of humourous pictures. Patients and controls were similar in humour appreciation and activated regions known to contribute to humour processing, including limbic and striatal regions. A direct statistical comparison between patients and controls revealed that humourous pictures elicited reduced hypothalamic response together with enhanced amygdala response in the patients. These results suggest (i) that hypothalamic HCRT activity physiologically modulates the processing of emotional inputs within the amygdala, and (ii) that suprapontine mechanisms of cataplexy involve a dysfunction of hypothalamic–amygdala interactions triggered by positive emotions.

Keywords: narcolepsy with cataplexy; functional MRI; hypocretin/orexin; amygdala; emotion

Journal Article.  5105 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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