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Exp Neurol. 2004 Aug;188(2):292-9.

Treatment with immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory agents delays onset of canine genetic narcolepsy and reduces symptom severity.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California at Los Angeles, 90095, USA.


All Doberman pinschers and Labrador retrievers homozygous for a mutation of the hypocretin (orexin) receptor-2 (hcrtr2) gene develop narcolepsy under normal conditions. Degenerative changes and increased display of major histocompatibility complex class II antigens have been linked to symptom onset in genetically narcoleptic Doberman pinschers. This suggests that the immune system may contribute to neurodegenerative changes and narcoleptic symptomatology in these dogs. We therefore attempted to alter the course of canine genetic narcolepsy, as an initial test of principle, by administering a combination of three immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory drugs chosen to suppress the immune response globally. Experimental dogs were treated with a combination of methylprednisolone, methotrexate and azathioprine orally starting within 3 weeks after birth, and raised in an environment that minimized pathogen exposure. Symptoms in treated and untreated animals were quantified using the food elicited cataplexy test (FECT), modified FECT and actigraphy. With drug treatment, time to cataplexy onset more than doubled, time spent in cataplexy during tests was reduced by more than 90% and nighttime sleep periods were consolidated. Short-term drug administration to control dogs did not reduce cataplexy symptoms, demonstrating that the drug regimen did not directly affect symptoms. Treatment was stopped at 6 months, after which experimental animals remained less symptomatic than controls until at least 2 years of age. This treatment is the first shown to affect symptom development in animal or human genetic narcolepsy. Our findings show that hcrtr2 mutation is not sufficient for the full symptomatic development of canine genetic narcolepsy and suggest that the immune system may play a role in the development of this disorder.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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