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Brain. 2008 Feb;131(Pt 2):514-22. Epub 2007 Dec 19.

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

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Laboratory for Neurology and Imaging of Cognition, Department of Clinical Neurology, University Medical Center, Michel-Servet 1, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland.


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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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