Caister Academic Press

CIMB Abstract

Curr. Issues Mol. Biol. (2010) 12: 51-62.

Prion Neurotoxicity: Insights from Prion Protein Mutants

Isaac H. Solomon, Jessie A. Schepker and David A. Harris

The chemical nature of prions and the mechanism by which they propagate are now reasonably well understood. In contrast, much less is known about the identity of the toxic prion protein (PrP) species that are responsible for neuronal death, and the cellular pathways that these forms activate. In addition, the normal, physiological function of cellular PrP (PrPC) has remained mysterious, hampering efforts to determine whether loss or alteration of this function contributes to the disease phenotype. Considerable evidence now suggests that aggregation, toxicity, and infectivity are distinct properties of PrP that do no necessarily coincide. In this review, we will discuss several mutant forms of PrP that produce spontaneous neurodegeneration in humans and/or transgenic mice without the formation of infectious PrPSc. These include an octapeptide insertional mutation, point mutations that favor synthesis of transmembrane forms of PrP, and deletions encompassing the central domain whose neurotoxicity is antagonized by the presence of wild-type PrP. By isolating the neurotoxic effects of PrP from the formation of infectious prions, these mutants have provided important insights into possible pathogenic mechanisms. These studies suggest that prion neurotoxicity may involve subversion of a cytoprotective activity of PrPC via altered signaling events at the plasma membrane.

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