Orexin Reserve: A Mechanistic Framework for the Role of Orexins (Hypocretins) in Addiction

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In 2014, we proposed that orexin signaling transformed motivationally relevant states into adaptive behavior directed toward exploiting an opportunity or managing a threat, a process we referred to as motivational activation. Advancements in animal models since then have permitted higher-resolution measurements of motivational states; in particular, the behavioral economics approach for studying drug demand characterizes conditions that lead to the enhanced motivation that underlies addiction. This motivational plasticity is paralleled by persistently increased orexin expression in a topographically specific manner—a finding confirmed across species, including in humans. Normalization of orexin levels also reduces drug motivation in addiction models. These new advancements lead us to update our proposed framework for the orexin function. We now propose that the capacity of orexin neurons to exhibit dynamic shifts in peptide production contributes to their role in adaptive motivational regulation and that this is achieved via a pool of reserve orexin neurons. This reserve is normally bidirectionally recruited to permit motivational plasticity that promotes flexible, adaptive behavior. In pathological states such as addiction, however, we propose that the orexin system loses capacity to adaptively adjust peptide production, resulting in focused hypermotivation for drug, driven by aberrantly and persistently high expression in the orexin reserve pool. This mechanistic framework has implications for the understanding and treatment of several psychiatric disorders beyond addiction, particularly those characterized by motivational dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)836-844
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number11
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biological Psychiatry


  • Behavioral economics
  • Cocaine
  • Hypothalamus
  • Neuropeptides
  • Opioids
  • Plasticity


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