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Orexins are neuropeptides produced in the lateral hypothalamus and implicated in regulation of sleep-wake cycle. Selective loss of orexin neurons is found in the brain of patients with narcolepsy, but the mechanisms of this pathological change are unclear. A previous study showed that excessive stimulation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors by quinolinic acid (QA) caused selective loss of orexin neurons in rat hypothalamic slice culture. Here we examined QA toxicity on orexin neurons and melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) neurons in vivo. Contrary to the expectation, injection of QA (60 and 120 nmol) into the lateral hypothalamus of male C57BL/6 mice caused selective loss of MCH neurons rather than orexin neurons, and this toxicity of QA was attenuated by MK-801, an NMDA receptor antagonist. Selective loss of MCH neurons with preserved orexin neurons was observed even when GABAA receptor antagonists such as bicuculline and picrotoxin were injected with QA. A significant decrease in the number of orexin neurons was induced when QA injection was performed in the dark phase of diurnal cycle, but the degree of the decrease was still lower than that in the number of MCH neurons. Finally, QA (60 nmol) induced selective loss of MCH neurons also in young rats at 3 - 4 weeks of age. These results do not support the hypothesis that acute excitotoxicity mediated by NMDA receptors is responsible for the pathogenesis of narcolepsy.
Neuroscience 170(1), 298-307, 2010-09-29