Transmissible and genetic prion diseases share a common pathway of neurodegeneration

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Prion diseases can be infectious, sporadic and genetic1,2,3,4. The infectious forms of these diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, are usually characterized by the accumulation in the brain of the transmissible pathogen, an abnormally folded isoform of the prion protein (PrP) termed PrPSc. However, certain inherited PrP mutations appear to cause neurodegeneration in the absence of PrPSc (refs 5,6,7,8), working instead by favoured synthesis of CtmPrP, a transmembrane form of PrP (ref. 9). The relationship between the neurodegeneration seen in transmissible prion diseases involving PrPSc and that associated with CtmPrP has remained unclear. Here we find that the effectiveness of accumulated PrPSc in causing neurodegenerative disease depends upon the predilection of host-encoded PrP to be made in the CtmPrP form. Furthermore, the time course of PrPSc accumulation in transmissible prion disease is followed closely by increased generation of CtmPrP. Thus, the accumulation of PrPSc appears to modulate in trans the events involved in generating or metabolising CtmPrP. Together, these data suggest that the events of CtmPrP-mediated neurodegeneration may represent a common step in the pathogenesis of genetic and infectious prion diseases.

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Figure 1: Dose response of CtmPrP-induced neurodegeneration.
Figure 2: Relationship between CtmPrP and PrPSc.
Figure 3: Lack of transmission of CtmPrP induced neurodegenerative disease.
Figure 4: CtmPrP generation during time course of PrPSc accumulation.
Figure 5: Three-stage model of prion disease pathogenesis.


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We are grateful to C. Petromilli and C. Cruz for animal care, A. Calayag and M. Zimmerman for technical assistance, J. Cayeteno for assistance with neuropathology, and T. Rutkowski, N. Shah and S. Mitra for discussions and comments on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Vishwanath R. Lingappa.

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Hegde, R., Tremblay, P., Groth, D. et al. Transmissible and genetic prion diseases share a common pathway of neurodegeneration. Nature 402, 822–826 (1999) doi:10.1038/45574

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