Narcolepsy Research in Action – Research in Dr. Scammell’s Lab

The Scammell Lab at Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center studies the biology of narcolepsy. One arm of this research is to identify the brain circuits that cause cataplexy. In people with narcolepsy, cataplexy is usually triggered by strong emotions such as those felt when telling a joke or having fun with friends. In fact, cataplexy almost always occurs with social interactions. How or why social interaction increases cataplexy is unknown. Current research in the Scammell Lab tests whether social interaction triggers cataplexy in a mouse model of narcolepsy, orexin knockout (OXKO) mice. In one test, orexin knockout mice are reintroduced to their siblings after a brief period of separation to examine if this increases cataplexy (see video). In general, this reunification doubles the frequency of cataplexy. This new discovery shows the importance of social interaction in triggering cataplexy in mice with narcolepsy just as in people. This now enables researchers to map the brain circuits through which social interactions can result in cataplexy. Wake Up Narcolepsy funding has contributed to this research.


In the video, four orexin knockout mice were reunited, and one mouse (with white stripes across his shoulders) walks across the cage from right to left and has a 10 second episode of cataplexy (indicated by the white “V”). Specifically, the mouse stops walking, falls to his right side, and remains immobile even when sniffed by one of his siblings.