Decreased orexin (hypocretin) immunoreactivity in the hypothalamus and pontine nuclei in sudden infant death syndrome

Nicholas J. Hunt, Karen A. Waters, Michael L. Rodriguez, Rita Machaalani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Infants at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have been shown to have dysfunctional sleep and poor arousal thresholds. In animal studies, both these attributes have been linked to impaired signalling of the neuropeptide orexin. This study examined the immunoreactivity of orexin (OxA and OxB) in the tuberal hypothalamus (n = 27) and the pons (n = 15) of infants (1–10 months) who died from SIDS compared to age-matched non-SIDS infants. The percentage of orexin immunoreactive neurons and the total number of neurons were quantified in the dorsomedial, perifornical and lateral hypothalamus at three levels of the tuberal hypothalamus. In the pons, the area of orexin immunoreactive fibres were quantified in the locus coeruleus (LC), dorsal raphe (DR), laterodorsal tegmental (LDT), medial parabrachial, dorsal tegmental (DTg) and pontine nuclei (Pn) using automated methods. OxA and OxB were co-expressed in all hypothalamic and pontine nuclei examined. In SIDS infants, orexin immunoreactivity was decreased by up to 21 % within each of the three levels of the hypothalamus compared to non-SIDS (p ≤ 0.050). In the pons, a 40–50 % decrease in OxA occurred in the all pontine nuclei, while a similar decrease in OxB immunoreactivity was observed in the LC, LDT, DTg and Pn (p ≤ 0.025). No correlations were found between the decreased orexin immunoreactivity and previously identified risk factors for SIDS, including prone sleeping position and cigarette smoke exposure. This finding of reduced orexin immunoreactivity in SIDS infants may be associated with sleep dysfunction and impaired arousal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-198
Number of pages14
JournalActa Neuropathologica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Automated fibre quantification
  • Development
  • Human
  • REM
  • SIDS
  • Sleep
  • Sleep dysfunction


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