The Discovery of Suvorexant, the First Orexin Receptor Drug for Insomnia

Paul J. Coleman, Anthony L. Gotter, W. Joseph Herring, Christopher J. Winrow, John J. Renger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Historically, pharmacological therapies have used mechanisms such as gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptor potentiation to drive sleep through broad suppression of central nervous system activity. With the discovery of orexin signaling loss as the etiology underlying narcolepsy, a disorder associated with hypersomnolence, orexin antagonism emerged as an alternative approach to attenuate orexin-induced wakefulness more selectively. Dual orexin receptor antagonists (DORAs) block the activity of orexin 1 and 2 receptors to both reduce the threshold to transition into sleep and attenuate orexin-mediated arousal. Among DORAs evaluated clinically, suvorexant has pharmacokinetic properties engineered for a plasma half-life appropriate for rapid sleep onset and maintenance at low to moderate doses. Unlike GABAA receptor modulators, DORAs promote both non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and REM sleep, do not disrupt sleep stage-specific quantitative electroencephalogram spectral profiles, and allow somnolence indistinct from normal sleep. The preservation of cognitive performance and the ability to arouse to salient stimuli after DORA administration suggest further advantages over historical therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)509-533
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology
StatePublished - Jan 6 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • hyperarousal
  • insomnia
  • orexin receptor antagonists
  • orexins
  • sleep
  • suvorexant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology


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