Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Neuropeptides. 2013 Dec;47(6):477-88. doi: 10.1016/j.npep.2013.10.009. Epub 2013 Oct 23.

Orexin in sleep, addiction and more: is the perfect insomnia drug at hand?

Author information

  • 1Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, School of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia; The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Parkville Campus, Kenneth Myer Building, at Genetics Lane, on Royal Parade, University of Melbourne, Parkville 3010, Australia. Electronic address:


Orexins A and B (hypocretins 1 and 2) and their two receptors (OX1R and OX2R) were discovered in 1998 by two different groups. Orexin A and B are derived from the differential processing of a common precursor, the prepro-orexin peptide. The neuropeptides are expressed in a few thousand cells located in the lateral hypothalamus (LH), but their projections and receptor distribution are widespread throughout the brain. Remarkably, prepro peptide and double (OX1R/OX2R) receptor knock out (KO) mice reproduce a sleep phenotype known in humans and dogs as narcolepsy/cataplexy. In humans, this disease is characterized by the absence of orexin producing cells in the LH, and severely depleted levels of orexin the cerebrospinal fluid. Null mutation of the individual OX1R or OX2R in mice substantially ameliorates the narcolepsy/cataplexy phenotype compared to the OX1R/OX2R KO, and highlights specific roles of the individual receptors in sleep architecture, the OX1R KO demonstrating an a attenuated sleep phenotype relative to the OX2R KO. It has therefore been suggested that orexin is a master regulator of the sleep-wake cycle, with high activity of the LH orexin cells during wake and almost none during sleep. Less than 10years later, the first orexin antagonist, almorexant, a dual orexin receptor antagonist (DORA), was reported to be effective in inducing sleep in volunteers and insomnia patients. Although development was stopped for almorexant and for Glaxo's DORA SB-649868, no less than 4 orexin receptor antagonists have reached phase II for insomnia, including Filorexant (MK-6096) and Suvorexant (MK-4305) from Merck. Suvorexant has since progressed to Phase III and dossier submission to the FDA. These four compounds are reported as DORAs, however, they equilibrate very slowly at one and/or the other orexin receptor, and thus at equilibrium may show more or less selectivity for OX1R or OX2R. The appropriate balance of antagonism of the two receptors for sleep is a point of debate, although in rodent models OX2R antagonism alone appears sufficient to induce sleep, whereas OX1R antagonism is largely devoid of this effect. Orexin is involved in a number of other functions including reward and feeding, where OX1R (possibly OX2R) antagonists display anti-addictive properties in rodent models of alcohol, smoking, and drug self-administration. However, despite early findings in feeding and appetite control, orexin receptor antagonists have not produced the anticipated effects in models of increased food intake or obesity in rodents, nor have they shown marked effects on weight in the existing clinical trials. The role of orexin in a number of other domains such as pain, mood, anxiety, migraine and neurodegenerative diseases is an active area of research. The progress of the orexin field is thus extraordinary, and the community awaits the clinical testing of more receptor selective antagonists in sleep and other disorders, as well as that of orexin agonists, with the latter expected to produce positive outcomes in narcolepsy/cataplexy and other conditions.

Copyright © 2013. Published by Elsevier Ltd.


Addiction; Feeding; Hypocretin; Hypothalamus; Insomnia; Narcolepsy/cataplexy; Orexin; Orexin receptors; Reward; Sleep

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk