- Research on Pandemrix, widely used during the 2009/2010 swine flu pandemic, may shed light on narcolepsy.
- Results of the study, which was conducted at Stanford, were published in Science Translational Medicine.
- The Pandemrix vaccine was withdrawn from the market after the 2009/2010 swine flu pandemic.
According to the researchers, the study has provided evidence that narcolepsy may be an autoimmune disease. Narcolepsy is lifelong and incurable. It is technically a brain disorder in which the normal sleep-wake cycle is disrupted. Not only does narcolepsy lead to sudden daytime sleep attacks, but people with narcolepsy also suffer from severe nightmares.
What's the connection between Pandemrix and narcolepsy? According to the researchers, the connection are hypocretin cells, which are "wakefulness" cells found in the area of the brain that regulates sleeps. People with narcolepsy suffer from a loss of function of their hypocretin cells.
The researchers found taht the H1N1 pandemic flu contains a protein with a structure that partly mimics a portion of a hypocretin receptor in the brain. They believe that some people developed narcolepsy after being vaccinated with Pandemrix, because high levels of the H1N1 protein stimulated the production of large amounts of antibodies to both the virus and the hypocretin receptor.
While the fact that people developed narcolepsy in response to vaccination is not a good thing, having a better understanding of the auto-immune component of narcolepsy could advance research in the area of sleep disorders.