Flu Vaccine-Narcolepsy Link Explained?

A new study sheds light on why those who received GlaxoSmithKline’s flu vaccine were at an increased risk of developing the sleep disorder.

By | December 20, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, PEDRO SIMOESEditor’s note (August 1, 2014): This paper was retracted after the authors failed to reproduce the results.

People suffering from narcolepsy may be victims of their own immune system, according to a study published this week (December 18) in Science Translational Medicine. Specifically, researchers have found evidence to suggest that the sleep disorder might result from an immune reaction against the wakefulness-regulating hormone hypocretin—possibly one triggered GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix flu vaccine that has been linked to an increased risk of developing narcolepsy, or even a case of the flu itself.

The work reveals “the fingerprints of an immune attack,” neuroimmunologist Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who was not involved in the research, told ScienceNOW.

The results are “exactly what we’ve been waiting for,” added vaccine expert Hanna Nohynek of the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, who helped identify the link between Pandemrix and narcolepsy.

In 2009, narcolepsy researcher Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University and colleagues, funded in part by a GSK grant, discovered a curious link between the sleep disorder and immunity: nearly all narcolepsy patients have a particular type of human leukocyte antigen (HLA), molecules that present antigens to T cells to help the immune system distinguish self from non-self. Working in an immune cell line with the narcolepsy-associated HLA, Mignot and his colleagues tested the effects of hypocretin on T cells from either from one of four narcolepsy patients or from their identical twins that didn’t suffer from the disorder. For each set of twins, the researchers found that the T cells from the affected individual reacted to pieces of hypocretin that were displayed by the HLAs; T cells from the unaffected twin did not react.

The researchers also tested the T cells of 10 Irish children who had developed the sleep disorder following the administration of the Pandemrix vaccine, along with those from healthy siblings who were also vaccinated and carried the same HLA type. Once again, only the T cells taken from the narcolepsy patients reacted to the hypocretin epitopes.

Mignot’s team also tested the effects of the H1N1 virus hemagglutinin protein, which resembles hypocretin epitopes, and found that fragments of the viral protein also elicited an immune reaction. The findings suggest that narcolepsy could result from the immune system reacting to native molecules as a result of their similar structure to pathogenic proteins.

“[This] is the first mechanistic explanation of the disease,” vaccine expert Steven Black of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio told ScienceNOW. Of course, he added, “there’s plenty of work to do” to fully understand what leads to the onset of narcolepsy.

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You



Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo


Avatar of: blumberg


Posts: 32

December 20, 2013

And that's why I won't get a vaccine for something that in a healthy human is merely an inconvenience.

Avatar of: Ljhenderson


Posts: 2

December 20, 2013

CDC numbers on flu complication deaths are uncertain but deaths are in the thousands especially affected are the most vulnerable.

By vaccinating large numbers of immuno-competent individuals less competent individuals are less likely to be exposed.this is a win win situation.

Vaccine producers efforts to produce vaccine with no side-effects continue even with emerging flu strains.

Failure to achieve adequate vaccination rates results in pandemics like those seen in the 1918 pandemic. This wide spread death in young people is not something anyone wants to see repeated. 

The flu is not an inconvenience for the immuno compromised individual, it's a death sentence to which the unvaccinated contribute.





Avatar of: PeterK


Posts: 2

December 20, 2013

The abstract of the paper indicates that it is the 2009 flu strain itself that has the narcoleptic ingredient, and that the vaccine merely includes it. In other words, getting the flu would likely get you a far worse case of narcolepsy.  

A question I'd like answered is whether the narcoleptic effect is temporary, that is, similar to the time scale of an active flu, or if this becomes a permanet condition. Is there permanent damage to the affected cells in the hippocampus (as described in the abstract, but not here in the article)? 

Avatar of: Lmci


Posts: 1

June 17, 2015

I've been trying to find answers for 3 years for my debilitating fatigue after receiving a flu jab in 2012 and then a booster hepA jab one month later. I was floored with the first one but the latter left me bedridden for months and although I am slowly getting better with a ton of supplements and lifestyle changes I fear that the injections have caused irreparable damage. Doctors haven't been any help and don't recognise a link but I feel there has to be. Are there any current research projects taking place in the UK that test a persons immune system  reaction to a vaccine?

Popular Now

  1. Man Receives First In Vivo Gene-Editing Therapy
  2. Researchers Build a Cancer Immunotherapy Without Immune Cells
  3. Long-term Study Finds That the Pesticide Glyphosate Does Not Cause Cancer
  4. Research Links Gut Health to Neurodegeneration
    The Nutshell Research Links Gut Health to Neurodegeneration

    Rodent studies presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting this week tie pathologies in the gastrointestinal tract or microbiome composition with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.