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Hum Mol Genet. 2005 Jan 1;14(1):39-47. Epub 2004 Nov 3.

Orexin loss in Huntington's disease.

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Department of Physiological Sciences, Section for Neuronal Survival, Lund, Sweden.


Huntington's disease (HD) is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expanded CAG repeat in the gene encoding huntingtin, a protein of unknown function. Mutant huntingtin forms intracellular aggregates and is associated with neuronal death in select brain regions. The most studied mouse model (R6/2) of HD replicates many features of the disease, but has been reported to exhibit only very little neuronal death. We describe for the first time a dramatic atrophy and loss of orexin neurons in the lateral hypothalamus of R6/2 mice. Importantly, we also found a significant atrophy and loss of orexin neurons in Huntington patients. Like animal models and patients with impaired orexin function, the R6/2 mice were narcoleptic. Both the number of orexin neurons in the lateral hypothalamus and the levels of orexin in the cerebrospinal fluid were reduced by 72% in end-stage R6/2 mice compared with wild-type littermates, suggesting that orexin could be used as a biomarker reflecting neurodegeneration. Our results show that the loss of orexin is a novel and potentially very important pathology in HD.

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