MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Researchers find flu protein may change narcolepsy

Flu protein may change narcolepsy | Courtesy of mit.edu
A team of researchers from around the world recently discovered that the immune system’s response to a specific protein in influenza may solidify narcolepsy as a “hit-and-run” autoimmune disease.

The researchers conducted their study to understand why one of the two flu vaccines used in the 2009 swine flu pandemic was connected to an increase in narcolepsy, which is a rare sleep disorder.

Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis and are best known for compromising the joints, nervous system or organs for decades. Beginning in the late 1990s, scientists have suggested that another type of autoimmune disease may happen quickly, cause specific harm and then disappear without a trace. These are called “hit-and-run” autoimmune diseases, and narcolepsy may be one.

People can have genetic predispositions to narcolepsy, but the disease also appears to be caused by a combination of infection with genetic predisposition. People who have narcolepsy have more antibodies against the H1N1 virus and strep bacteria. They also have low hypocretin levels, which is what keeps brains awake. Additionally, they have fewer hypocretin-producing brain neurons.

Now, researchers believe that an immune response triggered by certain vaccines may increase the chances of developing narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is an incurable, chronic and lifelong brain disorder that interrupts the typical sleep-wake cycles. It includes a variety of other symptoms, like sleep attacks and daytime sleepiness.

Further details are available in the July 1 edition of Science Translational Medicine.