Volume 52, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 0002-9637
  • E-ISSN: 1476-1645



We have previously demonstrated that human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) at the stage of meningoencephalitis results in a major disruption of the circadian rhythmicity of sleep and wakefulness that is proportional to the severity of the disease. This paper examines the corresponding 24-hourly secretion in cortisol and prolactin and compares it with the hourly distribution of sleep composition in infected patients and healthy African subjects. The secretion of cortisol in humans follows a circadian rhythm relatively independent of the sleep-wake cycle, whereas that of prolactin exhibits fluctuations over the 24-hr day that are strongly related to the sleep-wake cycle. After the clinical classification of the patients according to the severity of the disease, hourly blood samples were taken over 24 hr via an indwelling catheter. Plasma cortisol and prolactin were analyzed by radioimmunoassay, and the variations in the hourly concentrations were analyzed for the presence of a potential 24-hr rhythm (circadian). All of the healthy African subjects showed significant circadian rhythms in both cortisol and prolactin secretion, similar to data on humans from temperate regions, and a sleep-related anamnestic afternoon peak of prolactin. Major disruptions in the circadian rhythms of plasma cortisol and prolactin were found in the three patients with the most severe illness, in contrast to the four who were less severely ill and the healthy controls. Thus, it appears that as the disease progresses in severity, major disruptions begin to occur in body circadian rhythms, not only in the sleep-wake cycle as reported elsewhere, but also in cortisol and prolactin secretion, suggesting that sleeping sickness affects the circadian timing system.


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