Human narcolepsy with cataplexy is a neurological disorder, which develops due to a deficiency in hypocretin producing neurons in the hypothalamus. There is a strong association with human leucocyte antigens HLA-DR2 and HLA-DQB1*0602. The disease typically starts in adolescence. Recent developments in narcolepsy research support the hypothesis of narcolepsy being an immune-mediated disease. Narcolepsy is associated with polymorphisms of the genes encoding T cell receptor alpha chain, tumour necrosis factor alpha and tumour necrosis factor receptor II. Moreover the rate of streptococcal infection is increased at onset of narcolepsy. The hallmarks of anti-self reactions in the tissue--namely upregulation of major histocompatibility antigens and lymphocyte infiltrates--are missing in the hypothalamus. These findings are questionable because they were obtained by analyses performed many years after onset of disease. In some patients with narcolepsy autoantibodies to Tribbles homolog 2, which is expressed by hypocretin neurons, have been detected recently. Immune-mediated destruction of hypocretin producing neurons may be mediated by microglia/macrophages that become activated either by autoantigen specific CD4(+) T cells or superantigen stimulated CD8(+) T cells, or independent of T cells by activation of DQB1*0602 signalling. Activation of microglia and macrophages may lead to the release of neurotoxic molecules such as quinolinic acid, which has been shown to cause selective destruction of hypocretin neurons in the hypothalamus.