Hypocretin (orexin) loss in Alzheimer's disease

R. Fronczek, S. van Geest, M. Frölich, S. Overeem, F.W.C. Roelandse, G.J. Lammers, D.F. Swaab

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172 Citations (Scopus)


Sleep disturbances in Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients are associated with the severity of dementia and are often the primary reason for institutionalization. These sleep problems partly resemble core symptoms of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder caused by a general loss of the neurotransmitter hypocretin. AD is a neurodegenerative disorder targeting different brain areas and types of neurons. In this study, we assessed whether the neurodegenerative process of AD also affects hypothalamic hypocretin/orexin neurons. The total number of hypocretin-1 immunoreactive neurons was quantified in postmortem hypothalami of AD patients (n = 10) and matched controls (n = 10). In addition, the hypocretin-1 concentration was measured in postmortem ventricular cerebrospinal fluid of 24 AD patients and 25 controls (including the patients and controls in which the hypothalamic cell counts were performed). The number of hypocretin-1 immunoreactive neurons was significantly decreased by 40% in AD patients (median [25th-75th percentiles]); AD 12,935 neurons (9972-19,051); controls 21,002 neurons (16,439-25,765); p = 0.049). Lower cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) hypocretin-1 levels were found in AD patients compared with controls (AD: 275 pg/mL [197-317]; controls: 320 pg/mL [262-363]; p = 0.038). Two AD patients with documented excessive daytime sleepiness showed the lowest CSF hypocretin-1 concentrations (55 pg/mL and 76 pg/mL). We conclude that the hypocretin system is affected in advanced AD. This is reflected in a 40% decreased cell number, and 14% lower CSF hypocretin-1 levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1642-1650
Number of pages9
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease
  • Biomarkers
  • Cerebral Ventricles
  • Down-Regulation
  • Female
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons
  • Neuropeptides
  • Orexins
  • Journal Article


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