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Orexin loss in Huntington’s disease

Petersén Å, Gil J, Maat-Schieman MLC, Björkqvist M, Tanila H, Araujo IM, Smith R, Popovic N, Wierup N, Norlén P, Li JY, Roos RAC, Sundler F, Mulder H and Brundin P.

Human Molecular Genetics 14: 39-47 (2005).


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.