Dopaminergic-Adrenergic Interactions in The Wake Promoting Mechanism of Modafinil

Tomas Thorne

Last Updated: February 20, 2023

Modafinil Dopamine


Adrenergic signaling regulates the timing of sleep states and sleep state-dependent changes in muscle tone. Recent studies indicate a possible role for noradrenergic transmission in the wake-promoting action of modafinil, a widely used agent for the treatment of excessive sleepiness. We now report that noradrenergic projections from the locus coeruleus to the forebrain are not necessary for the wake-promoting action of modafinil. The efficacy of modafinil was maintained after treatment of C57BL/6 mice with N-(2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl 2-bromobenzylamine (DSP-4), which eliminates all noradrenaline transporter-bearing forebrain noradrenergic projections. However, the necessity for adrenergic receptors in the wake-promoting action of modafinil was demonstrated by the observation that the adrenergic antagonist terazosin suppressed the response to modafinil in DSP-4 treated mice. The wake-promoting efficacy of modafinil was also blunted by the dopamine autoreceptor agonist quinpirole. These findings implicate non-noradrenergic, dopamine-dependent adrenergic signaling in the wake-promoting mechanism of modafinil. The anatomical specificity of these dopaminergic-adrenergic interactions, which are present in forebrain areas that regulate sleep timing but not in brain stem areas that regulate sleep state-dependent changes in muscle tone, may explain why modafinil effectively treats excessive daytime sleepiness in narcolepsy but fails to prevent the loss of muscle tone that occurs in narcoleptic patients during cataplexy.


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