Key Project Outcomes
People with narcolepsy often have cataplexy – episodes of muscle weakness triggered by positive emotions such as joking with friends. It is clear that strong emotions and social interaction trigger cataplexy, but little is known about how these stimuli trigger muscle weakness. With support from the AASM Foundation, we have found that specific neurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala relay emotional stimuli to the brainstem to trigger cataplexy. In addition, these amygdala neurons are activated by oxytocin, helping explain why cataplexy mainly occurs during social interactions. Identification of these specific brain circuits provides new opportunities for specific therapies to reduce cataplexy.