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Concept: Prion


The symptoms of prion infection can take years or decades to manifest following the initial exposure. Molecular markers of prion disease include accumulation of the misfolded prion protein (PrPSc), which is derived from its cellular precursor (PrPC), as well as downregulation of the PrP-like Shadoo (Sho) glycoprotein. Given the overlapping cellular environments for PrPC and Sho, we inferred that PrPC levels might also be altered as part of a host response during prion infection. Using rodent models, we found that, in addition to changes in PrPC glycosylation and proteolytic processing, net reductions in PrPC occur in a wide range of prion diseases, including sheep scrapie, human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and cervid chronic wasting disease. The reduction in PrPC results in decreased prion replication, as measured by the protein misfolding cyclic amplification technique for generating PrPSc in vitro. While PrPC downregulation is not discernible in animals with unusually short incubation periods and high PrPC expression, slowly evolving prion infections exhibit downregulation of the PrPC substrate required for new PrPSc synthesis and as a receptor for pathogenic signaling. Our data reveal PrPC downregulation as a previously unappreciated element of disease pathogenesis that defines the extensive, presymptomatic period for many prion strains.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Prion, Chronic wasting disease, Scrapie, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Prions, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies


How small heat shock proteins (sHsps) might empower proteostasis networks to control beneficial prions or disassemble pathological amyloid is unknown. Here, we establish that yeast sHsps, Hsp26 and Hsp42, inhibit prionogenesis by the [PSI+] prion protein, Sup35, via distinct and synergistic mechanisms. Hsp42 prevents conformational rearrangements within molten oligomers that enable de novo prionogenesis and collaborates with Hsp70 to attenuate self-templating. By contrast, Hsp26 inhibits self-templating upon binding assembled prions. sHsp binding destabilizes Sup35 prions and promotes their disaggregation by Hsp104, Hsp70, and Hsp40. In yeast, Hsp26 or Hsp42 overexpression prevents [PSI+] induction, cures [PSI+], and potentiates [PSI+]-curing by Hsp104 overexpression. In vitro, sHsps enhance Hsp104-catalyzed disaggregation of pathological amyloid forms of α-synuclein and polyglutamine. Unexpectedly, in the absence of Hsp104, sHsps promote an unprecedented, gradual depolymerization of Sup35 prions by Hsp110, Hsp70, and Hsp40. This unanticipated amyloid-depolymerase activity is conserved from yeast to humans, which lack Hsp104 orthologues. A human sHsp, HspB5, stimulates depolymerization of α-synuclein amyloid by human Hsp110, Hsp70, and Hsp40. Thus, we elucidate a heretofore-unrecognized human amyloid-depolymerase system that could have applications in various neurodegenerative disorders.

Concepts: Proteins, Protein, Cell, Protein folding, Prion, Amyloid, Heat shock protein, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy


We report the presence of infectivity in erythrocytes, leukocytes, and plasma of 1 person with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and in the plasma of 2 in 4 persons whose tests were positive for sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The measured infectivity levels were comparable to those reported in various animals with transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

Concepts: Blood, Prion, Neurodegenerative disorders, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Encephalopathy, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies


Small molecules with antioxidative properties have been implicated in amyloid disorders. Curcumin is the active ingredient present in turmeric and known for several biological and medicinal effects. Adequate evidence substantiates the importance of curcumin in Alzheimer’s disease and recent evidence suggests its role in Prion and Parkinson’s disease. However, contradictory effects have been suggested for Huntington’s disease. This difference provided a compelling reason to investigate the effect of curcumin on glutamine-rich (Q-rich) and non-glutamine-rich (non Q-rich) amyloid aggregates in the well established yeast model system. Curcumin significantly inhibited the formation of htt72Q-GFP (a Q-rich) and Het-s-GFP (a non Q-rich) aggregates in yeast. We show that curcumin prevents htt72Q-GFP aggregation by down regulating Vps36, a component of the ESCRT-II (Endosomal sorting complex required for transport). Moreover, curcumin disrupted the htt72Q-GFP aggregates that were pre-formed in yeast and cured the yeast prion, [PSI(+)].

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Model organism, Prion, Neurodegenerative disorders, Parkinson's disease, Dementia, Turmeric, Curcumin


BACKGROUND: Although the aggregation of PrPSc is thought to be crucial for the neuropathology of prion diseases, there is evidence in cultured cells and transgenic mice that neuronal death can be triggered by the accumulation of cytosolic PrPs, leading to the hypothesis that the accumulation of PrPs in the cytosol of neurons may be a primary neurotoxic culprit. Hsp70, a molecular chaperone involved in protein folding/refolding and degradation in the cytoplasm, has a protective effect in some models of neurodegenerative diseases, e.g., Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, but its role in prion diseases remains unclear. RESULTS: To study the role of Hsp70 in prion diseases, we used immunoprecipitation to first identify a molecular interaction between Hsp70 and PrPs. Using immunofluorescence, we found that Hsp70 colocalized with cytosolic PrPs in HEK293 cells transiently transfected with plasmids for Cyto-PrP and PG14-PrP but not with wild-type PG5-PrP or endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-retained PrPs (3AV-PrP and ER-PrP). Using western blot analysis and apoptosis assays of cultured cells, we found that the overexpression of Hsp70 by transfection or the activation of Hsp70 by geldanamycin selectively mediated the degradation of cytosolic PrPs and restored cytosolic PrP-induced cytotoxicity. Moreover, we found that Hsp70 levels were up-regulated in cells expressing Cyto-PrP and in hamster brains infected with the scrapie agent 263K. CONCLUSION: These data imply that Hsp70 has central role in the metabolism of cytosolic PrPs.

Concepts: Protein, Gene expression, Cell, Molecular biology, Endoplasmic reticulum, Prion, Chaperone, Heat shock protein


Uncontrolled misfolding of proteins leading to the formation of amyloid deposits is associated with more than 40 types of diseases, such as neurodegenerative diseases and type-2 diabetes. These irreversible amyloid fibrils typically assemble in distinct stages. Transitions among the various intermediate stages are the subject of many studies but are not yet fully elucidated. Here, we combine high-resolution atomic force microscopy and quantitative nanomechanical mapping to determine the self-assembled structures of the decapeptide hIAPP(20-29), which is considered to be the fibrillating core fragment of the human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP) involved in type-2 diabetes. We successfully follow the evolution of hIAPP(20-29) nanostructures over time, calculate the average thickening speed of small ribbon-like structures, and provide evidence of the coexistence of ribbon and helical fibrils, highlighting a key step within the self-assembly model. In addition, the mutations of individual side chains of wide-type hIAPP(20-29) shift this balance and destabilize the helical fibrils sufficiently relative to the twisted ribbons to lead to their complete elimination. We combine atomic force microscopy structures, mechanical properties, and solid-state NMR structural information to build a molecular model containing β sheets in cross-β motifs as the basis of self-assembled amyloids.

Concepts: Protein, Diabetes, Peptide, Prion, Amyloid, Amylin, Neurodegeneration, Ribbon


Neurodegenerative diseases are a very diverse group of disorders but they share some common mechanisms such as abnormally misfolded proteins with prion-like propagation and aggregation. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is the most prevalent prion disease in humans. In the sporadic form of CJD the only known risk factor is the codon 129 polymorphism. Recent reports suggested that α-synuclein in multiple system atrophy (MSA) has similar pathogenic mechanisms as the prion protein. Here we present 1 Italian family with MSA and prion disease. Also, cases of concurrent MSA and prion pathology in the same individual or family suggest the possibility of molecular interaction between prion protein and α-synuclein in the process of protein accumulation and neurodegeneration, warranting further investigations. We assessed the PRNP gene by whole-exome sequencing in 264 pathologically confirmed MSA cases and 462 healthy controls to determine whether the 2 diseases share similar risk factors. We then analyzed codon 129 polymorphism by Sanger sequencing and compared with previously published results in sporadic CJD. Homozygosity at codon 129 was present in 50% of pathologically confirmed MSA cases and in 58% of normal controls (odds ratio, 0.7 (95% confidence interval of 0.5-0.9)) compared with 88.2% in sporadic CJD. Our data show that the homozygous state of position 129 in the PRNP is not a risk factor for MSA. No other variants in the PRNP gene were associated with increased risk for MSA.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Epidemiology, Molecular biology, Prion, Neurodegenerative disorders, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy


Hypochlorous acid (HOCl) is produced naturally by neutrophils and other cells to kill conventional microbes in vivo. Synthetic preparations containing HOCl can also be effective as microbial disinfectants. Here we have tested whether HOCl can also inactivate prions and other self-propagating protein amyloid seeds. Prions are deadly pathogens that are notoriously difficult to inactivate, and standard microbial disinfection protocols are often inadequate. Recommended treatments for prion decontamination include strongly basic (pH ≥~12) sodium hypochlorite bleach, ≥1 N sodium hydroxide, and/or prolonged autoclaving. These treatments are damaging and/or unsuitable for many clinical, agricultural and environmental applications. We have tested the anti-prion activity of a weakly acidic aqueous formulation of HOCl (BrioHOCl) that poses no apparent hazard to either users or many surfaces. For example, BrioHOCl can be applied directly to skin and mucous membranes and has been aerosolized to treat entire rooms without apparent deleterious effects. Here, we demonstrate that immersion in BrioHOCl can inactivate not only a range of target microbes, including spores of Bacillus subtilis, but also prions in tissue suspensions and on stainless steel. Real-time quaking-induced conversion (RT-QuIC) assays showed that BrioHOCl treatments eliminated all detectable prion seeding activity of human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, cervine chronic wasting disease, sheep scrapie and hamster scrapie; these findings indicated reductions of ≥103- to 106-fold. Transgenic mouse bioassays showed that all detectable hamster-adapted scrapie infectivity in brain homogenates or on steel wires was eliminated, representing reductions of ≥~105.75-fold and >104-fold, respectively. Inactivation of RT-QuIC seeding activity correlated with free chlorine concentration and higher order aggregation or destruction of proteins generally, including prion protein. BrioHOCl treatments had similar effects on amyloids composed of human α-synuclein and a fragment of human tau. These results indicate that HOCl can block the self-propagating activity of prions and other amyloids.

Concepts: Acid, Prion, Chlorine, Hypochlorous acid, Scrapie, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Sodium hypochlorite


Patients with iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease due to administration of cadaver-sourced growth hormone during childhood are still being seen in the UK 30 years after cessation of this treatment. Of the 77 patients who have developed iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, 56 have been genotyped. There has been a marked change in genotype profile at polymorphic codon 129 of the prion protein gene (PRNP) from predominantly valine homozygous to a mixed picture of methionine homozygous and methionine-valine heterozygous over time. The incubation period of iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is significantly different between all three genotypes. This experience is a striking contrast with that in France and the USA, which may relate to contamination of different growth hormone batches with different strains of human prions. We describe the clinical, imaging, molecular and autopsy features in 22 of 24 patients who have developed iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the UK since 2008. Mean age at onset of symptoms was 42.7 years. Gait ataxia and lower limb dysaesthesiae were the most frequent presenting symptoms. All had cerebellar signs, and the majority had myoclonus and lower limb pyramidal signs, with relatively preserved cognitive function, when first seen. There was a progressive decline in neurological and cognitive function leading to death after 5-32 (mean 14) months. Despite incubation periods approaching 40 years, the clinical duration in methionine homozygote patients appeared to be shorter than that seen in heterozygote patients. MRI showed restricted diffusion in the basal ganglia, thalamus, hippocampus, frontal and the paracentral motor cortex and cerebellar vermis. The electroencephalogram was abnormal in 15 patients and cerebrospinal fluid 14-3-3 protein was positive in half the patients. Neuropathological examination was conducted in nine patients. All but one showed synaptic prion deposition with numerous kuru type plaques in the basal ganglia, anterior frontal and parietal cortex, thalamus, basal ganglia and cerebellum. The patient with the shortest clinical duration had an atypical synaptic deposition of abnormal prion protein and no kuru plaques. Taken together, these data provide a remarkable example of the interplay between the strain of the pathogen and host prion protein genotype. Based on extensive modelling of human prion transmission barriers in transgenic mice expressing human prion protein on a mouse prion protein null background, the temporal distribution of codon 129 genotypes within the cohort of patients with iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the UK suggests that there was a point source of infecting prion contamination of growth hormone derived from a patient with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease expressing prion protein valine 129.

Concepts: Gene, Brain, Disease, Cerebral cortex, Prion, Cerebrum, Cerebellum, Incubation period


During prion disease, an increase in misfolded prion protein (PrP) generated by prion replication leads to sustained overactivation of the branch of the unfolded protein response (UPR) that controls the initiation of protein synthesis. This results in persistent repression of translation, resulting in the loss of critical proteins that leads to synaptic failure and neuronal death. We have previously reported that localized genetic manipulation of this pathway rescues shutdown of translation and prevents neurodegeneration in a mouse model of prion disease, suggesting that pharmacological inhibition of this pathway might be of therapeutic benefit. We show that oral treatment with a specific inhibitor of the kinase PERK (protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase), a key mediator of this UPR pathway, prevented UPR-mediated translational repression and abrogated development of clinical prion disease in mice, with neuroprotection observed throughout the mouse brain. This was the case for animals treated both at the preclinical stage and also later in disease when behavioral signs had emerged. Critically, the compound acts downstream and independently of the primary pathogenic process of prion replication and is effective despite continuing accumulation of misfolded PrP. These data suggest that PERK, and other members of this pathway, may be new therapeutic targets for developing drugs against prion disease or other neurodegenerative diseases where the UPR has been implicated.

Concepts: Proteins, Protein, Gene, Infectious disease, Endoplasmic reticulum, Protein folding, Prion, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy