marketing and public relations
click here for the news highlights
click here for all news releases
click here for contacts
click here to read our functions
click here for the experts guide
click here for our home page
click here to subscribe to news by email
click here for the southern miss home page
click here for licensing
style guide
graphics standards

Released August 31, 2004


HATTIESBURG - People with narcolepsy, a disorder characterized by uncontrollable sleepiness at all times, are most likely born in March, say researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi.

Dr. John Harsh, a psychology professor at Southern Miss, said month of birth is a risk factor not only for narcolepsy, which afflicts about 135,000 Americans, but also for a number of other neurological disorders, most notably schizophrenia.

Studies conducted at the Southern Miss Sleep Research Laboratory have replicated and extended the work of other scientists who have reported that more patients with narcolepsy are born in March than any other month.

"We're as confident as we can be scientifically," Harsh said of the findings, concluded from studies of national databases. "It's a very sharp peak - not April or February, but March."

About 25 percent of the most severe cases of narcolepsy occur in patients who are born in March, Harsh said. "That's a pretty remarkable finding. It gives new significance to the admonition "Beware the ides of March."

Narcoleptics suffer from a lifelong inability to maintain the boundaries of wakefulness and sleep. People with narcolepsy experience sometimes overwhelming urges to sleep at any time of the day, and bouts of sleep can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

Fellow researcher Dante Picchioni, a doctoral candidate at Southern Miss, said there are several possible reasons why month of birth is a determining factor for narcolepsy. One possible reason, he said, is because of some "noxious event" that occurs in the early stages of pregnancy - such as a viral infection.

"If you go back about six months from March, to September, that's the peak of the cold season. That stage of development, the beginning of the second trimester, is also the time at which a child's brain is quite vulnerable," Picchioni said.

Harsh and Picchioni work with a team of investigators including Dr. Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University and Dr. Geoffrey Hartwig at Forrest General Hospital's Sleep Disorder Center. Together, the researchers from the three institutions plan to learn more about the cause of narcolepsy in an upcoming study of brain tissue provided by a narcoleptic donor.

The donor is the deceased patriarch of an African-American family from south Mississippi with multiple cases of narcolepsy. "He was a very special man who was very interested in narcolepsy and how it could be treated. He cared enough to donate his brain to science. In fact, the whole family has been very helpful as well and has participated in our studies for about 15 years," Harsh said.

"There were seven or eight narcoleptics in the first and second generation of this family. We had 13 members of the family come in for spinal taps to help our research. They're very dedicated to helping find the cause (of narcolepsy)," he said.

The researchers are currently searching for a brain tissue donor - specifically an elderly African-American male not afflicted with narcolepsy - whose brain tissue would serve, upon the death of the donor, as the control in the study.

Mignot will analyze the donor tissue at Stanford, creating a library of genes for future analysis. The procedure, Harsh said, is "cutting-edge science and will be the first ever use of the technique in the study of human disease."

If successful, the technique could be applied to the study of other diseases like Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.

For more information about narcolepsy or the brain donor program, contact the Southern Miss Sleep Research Laboratory at 266-4611.


to the top


This page is maintained by the Department of Marketing and Public Relations at
The University of Southern Mississippi at
Comments and suggestions are welcome; direct them to

September 9, 2004 10:43 AM