Narcolepsy is a disabling sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. Recent studies suggest that the immune system might play a pathogenic role pointing to a possible involvement of inflammatory cytokines.
We investigated a sample of 30 patients with narcolepsy in comparison with 120 sex- and age-matched and 101 sex-, body mass index (BMI)-, and age-matched randomly selected normal controls. In these groups, plasma concentrations of tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) and its soluble receptors p55 and p75 (soluble TNF receptor [sTNF-R] p55 and sTNF-R p75) were measured using commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.
The narcoleptic patients showed a significantly higher BMI compared with controls of the same age. Soluble TNF-R p75 levels were consistently elevated in the narcoleptic patients compared with their sex- and age-matched (P = .001) as well as sex-, BMI-, and age-matched counterparts (P = .003). Female narcoleptic patients exhibited higher sTNF-R p55 levels compared with their sex- and age-matched controls (P = .01), but this difference disappeared when comparing patients with sex-, BMI-, and age-matched normal controls. Tumor necrosis factor α levels did not differ significantly between groups.
Narcoleptic patients show increased plasma levels of sTNF-R p75, suggesting a functional alteration of the TNF-α cytokine system, further corroborating a possible pathogenic role of the immune system in this sleep disorder.