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Article  March 13, 2016

The Dual Hypocretin Receptor Antagonist Almorexant is Permissive for Activation of Wake-Promoting Systems

SRI Authors Thomas Kilduff



Parks GS, Warrier DR, Dittrich L, Schwartz MD, Palmerston JB, Neylan TC, Morairty SR, Kilduff TS (2016). The Dual Hypocretin Receptor Antagonist Almorexant is Permissive for Activation of Wake-Promoting SystemsNeuropsychopharmacology 41:1144-55.


The dual hypocretin receptor (HcrtR) antagonist almorexant (ALM) may promote sleep through selective disfacilitation of wake-promoting systems, whereas benzodiazepine receptor agonists (BzRAs) such as zolpidem (ZOL) induce sleep through general inhibition of neural activity. Previous studies have indicated that HcrtR antagonists cause less-functional impairment than BzRAs. To gain insight into the mechanisms underlying these differential profiles, we compared the effects of ALM and ZOL on functional activation of wake-promoting systems at doses equipotent for sleep induction. Sprague-Dawley rats, implanted for EEG/EMG recording, were orally administered vehicle (VEH), 100 mg/kg ALM, or 100 mg/kg ZOL during their active phase and either left undisturbed or kept awake for 90 min after which their brains were collected. ZOL-treated rats required more stimulation to maintain wakefulness than VEH- or ALM-treated rats. We measured Fos co-expression with markers for wake-promoting cell groups in the lateral hypothalamus (Hcrt), tuberomammillary nuclei (histamine; HA), basal forebrain (acetylcholine; ACh), dorsal raphe (serotonin; 5HT), and singly labeled Fos+ cells in the locus coeruleus (LC). Following SD, Fos co-expression in Hcrt, HA, and ACh neurons (but not in 5HT neurons) was consistently elevated in VEH- and ALM-treated rats, whereas Fos expression in these neuronal groups was unaffected by SD in ZOL-treated rats. Surprisingly, Fos expression in the LC was elevated in ZOL- but not in VEH- or ALM-treated SD animals. These results indicate that Hcrt signaling is unnecessary for the activation of Hcrt, HA, or ACh wake-active neurons, which may underlie the milder cognitive impairment produced by HcrtR antagonists compared to ZOL.

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