Concept: Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy
Amyloid-β (Aβ) is a peptide deposited in the brain parenchyma in Alzheimer’s disease and in cerebral blood vessels, causing cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA). Aβ pathology is transmissible experimentally in animals and through medical procedures in humans, such as contaminated growth hormone or dura mater transplantation in the context of iatrogenic prion disease. Here, we present four patients who underwent neurosurgical procedures during childhood or teenage years and presented with intracerebral haemorrhage approximately three decades later, caused by severe CAA. None of these patients carried pathogenic mutations associated with early Aβ pathology development. In addition, we identified in the literature four patients with a history of neurosurgical intervention and subsequent development of CAA. These findings raise the possibility that Aβ pathology may be transmissible, as prion disease is, through neurosurgical procedures.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More than two hundred individuals developed Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) worldwide as a result of treatment, typically in childhood, with human cadaveric pituitary-derived growth hormone contaminated with prions. Although such treatment ceased in 1985, iatrogenic CJD (iCJD) continues to emerge because of the prolonged incubation periods seen in human prion infections. Unexpectedly, in an autopsy study of eight individuals with iCJD, aged 36-51 years, in four we found moderate to severe grey matter and vascular amyloid-β (Aβ) pathology. The Aβ deposition in the grey matter was typical of that seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Aβ in the blood vessel walls was characteristic of cerebral amyloid angiopathy and did not co-localize with prion protein deposition. None of these patients had pathogenic mutations, APOE ε4 or other high-risk alleles associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Examination of a series of 116 patients with other prion diseases from a prospective observational cohort study showed minimal or no Aβ pathology in cases of similar age range, or a decade older, without APOE ε4 risk alleles. We also analysed pituitary glands from individuals with Aβ pathology and found marked Aβ deposition in multiple cases. Experimental seeding of Aβ pathology has been previously demonstrated in primates and transgenic mice by central nervous system or peripheral inoculation with Alzheimer’s disease brain homogenate. The marked deposition of parenchymal and vascular Aβ in these relatively young patients with iCJD, in contrast with other prion disease patients and population controls, is consistent with iatrogenic transmission of Aβ pathology in addition to CJD and suggests that healthy exposed individuals may also be at risk of iatrogenic Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral amyloid angiopathy. These findings should also prompt investigation of whether other known iatrogenic routes of prion transmission may also be relevant to Aβ and other proteopathic seeds associated with neurodegenerative and other human diseases.
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.
The structure of the infectious prion protein (PrPSc), which is responsible for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has escaped all attempts at elucidation due to its insolubility and propensity to aggregate. PrPSc replicates by converting the non-infectious, cellular prion protein (PrPC) into the misfolded, infectious conformer through an unknown mechanism. PrPSc and its N-terminally truncated variant, PrP 27-30, aggregate into amorphous aggregates, 2D crystals, and amyloid fibrils. The structure of these infectious conformers is essential to understanding prion replication and the development of structure-based therapeutic interventions. Here we used the repetitive organization inherent to GPI-anchorless PrP 27-30 amyloid fibrils to analyze their structure via electron cryomicroscopy. Fourier-transform analyses of averaged fibril segments indicate a repeating unit of 19.1 Å. 3D reconstructions of these fibrils revealed two distinct protofilaments, and, together with a molecular volume of 18,990 Å3, predicted the height of each PrP 27-30 molecule as ~17.7 Å. Together, the data indicate a four-rung β-solenoid structure as a key feature for the architecture of infectious mammalian prions. Furthermore, they allow to formulate a molecular mechanism for the replication of prions. Knowledge of the prion structure will provide important insights into the self-propagation mechanisms of protein misfolding.
Prions are the protein-based infectious agents responsible for prion diseases. Environmental prion contamination has been implicated in disease transmission. Here, we analyzed the binding and retention of infectious prion protein (PrP(Sc)) to plants. Small quantities of PrP(Sc) contained in diluted brain homogenate or in excretory materials (urine and feces) can bind to wheat grass roots and leaves. Wild-type hamsters were efficiently infected by ingestion of prion-contaminated plants. The prion-plant interaction occurs with prions from diverse origins, including chronic wasting disease. Furthermore, leaves contaminated by spraying with a prion-containing preparation retained PrP(Sc) for several weeks in the living plant. Finally, plants can uptake prions from contaminated soil and transport them to aerial parts of the plant (stem and leaves). These findings demonstrate that plants can efficiently bind infectious prions and act as carriers of infectivity, suggesting a possible role of environmental prion contamination in the horizontal transmission of the disease.