Brain; auth.: groups Franken and Tafti

Brain. 2013 May;136(Pt 5):1592-608. doi: 10.1093/brain/awt069.

Electroencephalogram paroxysmal θ characterizes cataplexy in mice and children.


Centre for Integrative Genomics, Université de Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Astute control of brain activity states is critical for adaptive behaviours and survival. In mammals and birds, electroencephalographic recordings reveal alternating states of wakefulness, slow wave sleep and paradoxical sleep (or rapid eye movement sleep). This control is profoundly impaired in narcolepsy with cataplexy, a disease resulting from the loss of orexin/hypocretin neurotransmitter signalling in the brain. Narcolepsy with cataplexy is characterized by irresistible bouts of sleep during the day, sleep fragmentation during the night and episodes of cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle tone while awake and experiencing emotions. The neural mechanisms underlying cataplexy are unknown, but commonly thought to involve those of rapid eye movement-sleep atonia, and cataplexy typically is considered as a rapid eye movement sleep disorder. Here we reassess cataplexy in hypocretin (Hcrt, also known as orexin) gene knockout mice. Using a novel video/electroencephalogram double-blind scoring method, we show that cataplexy is not a state per se, as believed previously, but a dynamic, multi-phased process involving a reproducible progression of states. A knockout-specific state and a stereotypical paroxysmal event were introduced to account for signals and electroencephalogram spectral characteristics not seen in wild-type littermates. Cataplexy almost invariably started with a brief phase of wake-like electroencephalogram, followed by a phase featuring high-amplitude irregular theta oscillations, defining an activity profile distinct from paradoxical sleep, referred to as cataplexy-associated state and in the course of which 1.5-2 s high-amplitude, highly regular, hypersynchronous paroxysmal theta bursts (∼7 Hz) occurred. In contrast to cataplexy onset, exit from cataplexy did not show a predictable sequence of activities. Altogether, these data contradict the hypothesis that cataplexy is a state similar to paradoxical sleep, even if long cataplexies may evolve into paradoxical sleep. Although not exclusive to overt cataplexy, cataplexy-associated state and hypersynchronous paroxysmal theta activities are highly enriched during cataplexy in hypocretin/orexin knockout mice. Their occurrence in an independent narcolepsy mouse model, the orexin/ataxin 3 transgenic mouse, undergoing loss of orexin neurons, was confirmed. Importantly, we document for the first time similar paroxysmal theta hypersynchronies (∼4 Hz) during cataplexy in narcoleptic children. Lastly, we show by deep recordings in mice that the cataplexy-associated state and hypersynchronous paroxysmal theta activities are independent of hippocampal theta and involve the frontal cortex. Cataplexy hypersynchronous paroxysmal theta bursts may represent medial prefrontal activity, associated in humans and rodents with reward-driven motor impulse, planning and conflict monitoring.