Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have discovered autoreactive cells in persons suffering from narcolepsy. This is a new, important proof that the sleep disorder is an autoimmune disease. This knowledge may lead to better treatment of the chronic condition, the researchers behind the new discovery believe. For many years, scientists have suspected that the sleep disorder narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease, though without being able to prove it conclusively. Now, researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, together with the Technical University of Denmark and Rigshospitalet, have found a new, important proof that their presumptions were correct. The new research results were on February 19, 2019 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “CD8+ T Cells from Patients with Narcolepsy and Healthy Controls Recognize Hypocretin Neuron-Specific Antigens.” “We have found autoreactive cytotoxic CD8 T cells in the blood of narcolepsy patients. That is, the cells recognize the neurons that produce hypocretin, which regulates a person's waking state. It does not prove that they are the CD8 T cells are the ones that killed the neurons, but it is an important step forward. Now we know what the cells are after,” says the article’s senior author, Associate Professor Birgitte Rahbek Kornum (photo), PhD, from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Copenhagen. The immune system is designed to recognize viruses and bacteria. When its cells are autoreactive - which is the case in autoimmune diseases - the immune system recognizes the body's own cells as foreign and attacks them. That the immunr cells are cytotoxic means that they are capable of killing other cells.
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