Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Key to Happiness

Have you ever wondered what makes you happy? Is it power? Money? Getting A from Biol 312? Or like most other things, is it something in your head? According to a group of UCLA scientists, the main key to your happiness is a neurotransmitter called hypocretin. The release of hypocretin increased when the subjects were happy. Its release decreased when the subjects were sad.

This finding can be used for both depression and the study of narcolepsy because depression and the sleep disorder often happen together. The study, from last week’s Nature Communications, looked at the release of two peptides in the brain: melanin-concentrating hormone, or MCH, and hypocretin. Hypocretin levels increased when we were waking up, while MCH levels increased during sleep.

To investigate the relationship between hypocretin, depression and narcolepsy, the researchers followed eight epileptic Ronald Reagan Hospital patients whose brains were already being monitored by implanted electrodes. They measured the release of hypocretin and MCH while they watched television, engaged in social interactions such as talking to physicians, nursing staff or family, ate, and experienced sleep-wake transitions. The patients rated their moods every hour in a questionnaire.

The researchers found that hypocretin levels were not linked to arousal in general. Yet, they were highest during positive emotions, anger, social interactions and awakening. Also, the levels remained much lower during pain or sleep. In contrast, MCH levels were highest when they were falling asleep or just after eating, and lowest when they were experiencing pain or interacting socially.

Some drug companies are developing the usage of hypocretin antagonists in sleeping pills, but this study suggests that that would alter people’s mood as well. Along with previous research, the results “suggest that hypocretin administration will elevate both mood and alertness in humans,” according to senior author Jerome Siegel, a UCLA psychiatry professor who studies sleep.

Posted by Setareh Sepasi (3)


  1. Do you think that if companies are developing sleeping pills that use a hypocretin antagonist, that they will also develop something that will help increase levels in the hopes of giving people who need it more positive emotions (like people suffering from depression)? I would be interested to see how the sleeping pill works, especially since Melatonin and Ambien do not work for me when it comes to sleep.

    Cynthia Bui (1)

  2. It would be interesting to see how hypocetin differs from other drugs or treatments used to induce more positive emotions (duloxetin in Cymbalta, fluoxetin in Prozac, and MDMA in Ecstasy etc...). My other question would be how effective hypocretin would be towards the possible treatment of patients suffering from Narcolepsy?

    Marshall Moini (2)

  3. I am also interested in the role that hypocretin plays in the brain, and specifically the pathways it modulates to elevate mood. It is intriguing that it was not elevated during general arousal, but was elevated for such distinct strong emotians as anger and happiness. Maybe hypocretin is correlated simply with strong emotians, regardless of their positive of negative nature? Do you know if anyone has studied the relationship between fear and hypocretin levels/action? Also, the broad nature of hypocretin's effects seems to cast doubt on whether or not it would make a good candidate for an anti-depressant.

    Posted by Sean McDougall (2)

  4. I'm curious how changing the levels of hypocretin would effect humans in other ways. It's difficult to find a drug that is safe to use while still delivering the desired effect. This could have the potential to be a revolutionary drug but I feel like more research would be needed.

    Posted by Poya Jafari (2)

  5. There is probably some sort of holistic way to increase hypocretin. I hope that there is more to hear about a way to increase hypocretin levels without using a prescription, because I feel like there is always a risk to taking prescription medications. There would be a lot of benefits to it though, especially for people with mood and mental disorders.