Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by sleepiness and episodes of cataplexy. Cataplexy is an abrupt loss of muscle tone, most often triggered by sudden, strong emotions. A subset of cells in the medial medulla of the narcoleptic dog discharged at high rates only in cataplexy and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These cells were noncholinergic and were localized to ventromedial and caudal portions of the nucleus magnocellularis. The localization and discharge pattern of these cells indicate that cataplexy results from a triggering in waking of the neurons responsible for the suppression of muscle tone in REM sleep. However, most medullary cells were inactive during cataplexy but were active during REM sleep. These data demonstrate that cataplexy is a distinct behavioral state, differing from other sleep and waking states in its pattern of brainstem neuronal activity.

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