A research study suggests neural activity in the emotional processing network of the brain may lead to cataplexy, according to Brain Decoder.

In a study recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, Meletti, Plazzi and their colleagues showed funny videos to 21 children and adolescents with narcolepsy. The participants were not taking medications, and were also diagnosed only recently—as people grow older, they develop “tricks” to tamp down on cataplexy, which may complicate the real picture of the neural mechanisms underlying the condition.

Sixteen of the kids were moved to laughter, and 10 of these experienced cataplexy. The researchers used fMRI to monitor brain activity during laughter and cataplexy episodes. When the children laughed without experiencing cataplexy, the scans showed increased activity in a network including the motor cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus (but interestingly, not the regions that have been linked to humor detection and appreciation in previous fMRI studies in healthy people).

During cataplexy, however, the researchers found increased activity in a network that processes emotion and reward or amusement, including the amygdala, nucleus accumbens, and anterior insular cortex. This network showed an increased activity only when the children highly enjoyed a funny video and was silent when the kids laughed without real amusement.

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