The sleep disorder narcolepsy results from loss of hypothalamic orexin/hypocretin neurons. Although narcolepsy onset is usually postpubertal, current mouse models involve loss of either orexin peptides or orexin neurons from birth. To create a model of orexin/hypocretin deficiency with closer fidelity to human narcolepsy, diphtheria toxin A (DTA) was expressed in orexin neurons under control of the Tet-off system. Upon doxycycline removal from the diet of postpubertal orexin-tTA;TetO DTA mice, orexin neurodegeneration was rapid, with 80% cell loss within 7 d, and resulted in disrupted sleep architecture. Cataplexy, the pathognomic symptom of narcolepsy, occurred by 14 d when ~5% of the orexin neurons remained. Cataplexy frequency increased for at least 11 weeks after doxycycline. Temporary doxycycline removal followed by reintroduction after several days enabled partial lesion of orexin neurons. DTA-induced orexin neurodegeneration caused a body weight increase without a change in food consumption, mimicking metabolic aspects of human narcolepsy. Because the orexin/hypocretin system has been implicated in the control of metabolism and addiction as well as sleep/wake regulation, orexin-tTA; TetO DTA mice are a novel model in which to study these functions, for pharmacological studies of cataplexy, and to study network reorganization as orexin input is lost.
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