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1.  Quinacrine treatment trial for sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease 
Neurology  2013;81(23):2015-2023.
To determine whether oral quinacrine increases survival in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD).
This NIH/National Institute on Aging–funded, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, stratified randomization treatment trial was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco from February 2005 through May 2009 (, NCT00183092). Subjects were randomized (50:50) to quinacrine (300 mg daily) or placebo with inpatient evaluations at baseline, and planned for months 2, 6, and 12. Subjects returning for their month-2 visit were offered open-label quinacrine. The primary outcome was survival from randomization to month 2.
Of 425 patients referred, 69 subjects enrolled, 54 subjects were randomized to active drug or placebo, and 51 subjects with sCJD were included in survival analyses. Survival for the randomized portion of the trial (first 2 months) showed no significant difference between the 2 groups (log-rank statistic, p = 0.43; Cox proportional relative hazard = 1.43, quinacrine compared with placebo, 95% confidence interval = 0.58, 3.53). The quinacrine-treated group, however, declined less on 2 of 3 functional scales, the modified Rankin and Clinical Dementia Rating, than the placebo group during the first 2 months.
This interventional study provides Class I evidence that oral quinacrine at 300 mg per day does not improve 2-month survival of patients with sCJD, compared with placebo. Importantly, this study shows that double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized treatment trials are possible in prion disease. Furthermore, the quantitative data collected on the course of sCJD will be useful for future trials.
Classification of evidence:
This study provides Class I evidence that quinacrine does not improve survival for people with sCJD when given orally at a dose of 300 mg per day for 2 months.
PMCID: PMC4211922  PMID: 24122181
2.  White matter involvement in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease 
Brain  2014;137(12):3339-3354.
Sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is considered primarily a disease of grey matter, although the extent of white matter involvement has not been well described. We used diffusion tensor imaging to study the white matter in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease compared to healthy control subjects and to correlated magnetic resonance imaging findings with histopathology. Twenty-six patients with sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and nine age- and gender-matched healthy control subjects underwent volumetric T1-weighted and diffusion tensor imaging. Six patients had post-mortem brain analysis available for assessment of neuropathological findings associated with prion disease. Parcellation of the subcortical white matter was performed on 3D T1-weighted volumes using Freesurfer. Diffusion tensor imaging maps were calculated and transformed to the 3D-T1 space; the average value for each diffusion metric was calculated in the total white matter and in regional volumes of interest. Tract-based spatial statistics analysis was also performed to investigate the deeper white matter tracts. There was a significant reduction of mean (P = 0.002), axial (P = 0.0003) and radial (P = 0.0134) diffusivities in the total white matter in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Mean diffusivity was significantly lower in most white matter volumes of interest (P < 0.05, corrected for multiple comparisons), with a generally symmetric pattern of involvement in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Mean diffusivity reduction reflected concomitant decrease of both axial and radial diffusivity, without appreciable changes in white matter anisotropy. Tract-based spatial statistics analysis showed significant reductions of mean diffusivity within the white matter of patients with sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mainly in the left hemisphere, with a strong trend (P = 0.06) towards reduced mean diffusivity in most of the white matter bilaterally. In contrast, by visual assessment there was no white matter abnormality either on T2-weighted or diffusion-weighted images. Widespread reduction in white matter mean diffusivity, however, was apparent visibly on the quantitative attenuation coefficient maps compared to healthy control subjects. Neuropathological analysis showed diffuse astrocytic gliosis and activated microglia in the white matter, rare prion deposition and subtle subcortical microvacuolization, and patchy foci of demyelination with no evident white matter axonal degeneration. Decreased mean diffusivity on attenuation coefficient maps might be associated with astrocytic gliosis. We show for the first time significant global reduced mean diffusivity within the white matter in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, suggesting possible primary involvement of the white matter, rather than changes secondary to neuronal degeneration/loss.
Sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD) is considered primarily a disease of grey matter. However, Caverzasi et al. now show a global decrease in mean diffusivity in white matter. The changes appear to be associated with reactive astrocytic gliosis and activated microglia, and suggest primary involvement of the white matter in sCJD.
PMCID: PMC4240303  PMID: 25367029
DTI; CJD; mean diffusivity; gliosis; microglia
3.  Convection-Enhanced Delivery of AAV2-PrPshRNA in Prion-Infected Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e98496.
Prion disease is caused by a single pathogenic protein (PrPSc), an abnormal conformer of the normal cellular prion protein PrPC. Depletion of PrPC in prion knockout mice makes them resistant to prion disease. Thus, gene silencing of the Prnp gene is a promising effective therapeutic approach. Here, we examined adeno-associated virus vector type 2 encoding a short hairpin RNA targeting Prnp mRNA (AAV2-PrP-shRNA) to suppress PrPC expression both in vitro and in vivo. AAV2-PrP-shRNA treatment suppressed PrP levels and prevented dendritic degeneration in RML-infected brain aggregate cultures. Infusion of AAV2-PrP-shRNA-eGFP into the thalamus of CD-1 mice showed that eGFP was transported to the cerebral cortex via anterograde transport and the overall PrPC levels were reduced by ∼70% within 4 weeks. For therapeutic purposes, we treated RML-infected CD-1 mice with AAV2-PrP-shRNA beginning at 50 days post inoculation. Although AAV2-PrP-shRNA focally suppressed PrPSc formation in the thalamic infusion site by ∼75%, it did not suppress PrPSc formation efficiently in other regions of the brain. Survival of mice was not extended compared to the untreated controls. Global suppression of PrPC in the brain is required for successful therapy of prion diseases.
PMCID: PMC4035323  PMID: 24866748
4.  Evidence That Bank Vole PrP Is a Universal Acceptor for Prions 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(4):e1003990.
Bank voles are uniquely susceptible to a wide range of prion strains isolated from many different species. To determine if this enhanced susceptibility to interspecies prion transmission is encoded within the sequence of the bank vole prion protein (BVPrP), we inoculated Tg(M109) and Tg(I109) mice, which express BVPrP containing either methionine or isoleucine at polymorphic codon 109, with 16 prion isolates from 8 different species: humans, cattle, elk, sheep, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, and meadow voles. Efficient disease transmission was observed in both Tg(M109) and Tg(I109) mice. For instance, inoculation of the most common human prion strain, sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD) subtype MM1, into Tg(M109) mice gave incubation periods of ∼200 days that were shortened slightly on second passage. Chronic wasting disease prions exhibited an incubation time of ∼250 days, which shortened to ∼150 days upon second passage in Tg(M109) mice. Unexpectedly, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and variant CJD prions caused rapid neurological dysfunction in Tg(M109) mice upon second passage, with incubation periods of 64 and 40 days, respectively. Despite the rapid incubation periods, other strain-specified properties of many prion isolates—including the size of proteinase K–resistant PrPSc, the pattern of cerebral PrPSc deposition, and the conformational stability—were remarkably conserved upon serial passage in Tg(M109) mice. Our results demonstrate that expression of BVPrP is sufficient to engender enhanced susceptibility to a diverse range of prion isolates, suggesting that BVPrP may be a universal acceptor for prions.
Author Summary
Prions are infectious proteins that cause devastating neurodegenerative diseases in both humans and animals. Unlike other rodents, bank voles are highly susceptible to prions from many different species, suggesting that bank voles do not impose a “species barrier,” which normally restricts the transmission of prions from one species to another. We were curious as to whether the unprecedented promiscuity of bank voles for prions is due to the specific prion protein sequence expressed, or to some other factor inherent to bank vole physiology. To answer this question, we inoculated transgenic mice that express bank vole prion protein [Tg(BVPrP) mice] with a diverse set of prions deriving from eight different species. Like bank voles, Tg(BVPrP) mice were highly susceptible to prions from all species tested, demonstrating that the BVPrP sequence mediates the enhanced susceptibility of bank voles to prions. Because the amino acid sequences of mouse and BVPrP differ at only eight positions, our results demonstrate that alterations to a small subset of residues within PrP can have a profound effect on the susceptibility of an organism to prions from another species.
PMCID: PMC3974871  PMID: 24699458
5.  Chimeric elk/mouse prion proteins in transgenic mice 
The Journal of General Virology  2013;94(Pt 2):443-452.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) of deer and elk is a highly communicable neurodegenerative disorder caused by prions. Investigations of CWD are hampered by slow bioassays in transgenic (Tg) mice. Towards the development of Tg mice that will be more susceptible to CWD prions, we created a series of chimeric elk/mouse transgenes that encode the N terminus of elk PrP (ElkPrP) up to residue Y168 and the C terminus of mouse PrP (MoPrP) beyond residue 169 (mouse numbering), designated Elk3M(SNIVVK). Between codons 169 and 219, six residues distinguish ElkPrP from MoPrP: N169S, T173N, V183I, I202V, I214V and R219K. Using chimeric elk/mouse PrP constructs, we generated 12 Tg mouse lines and determined incubation times after intracerebral inoculation with the mouse-passaged RML scrapie or Elk1P CWD prions. Unexpectedly, one Tg mouse line expressing Elk3M(SNIVVK) exhibited incubation times of <70 days when inoculated with RML prions; a second line had incubation times of <90 days. In contrast, mice expressing full-length ElkPrP had incubation periods of >250 days for RML prions. Tg(Elk3M,SNIVVK) mice were less susceptible to CWD prions than Tg(ElkPrP) mice. Changing three C-terminal mouse residues (202, 214 and 219) to those of elk doubled the incubation time for mouse RML prions and rendered the mice resistant to Elk1P CWD prions. Mutating an additional two residues from mouse to elk at codons 169 and 173 increased the incubation times for mouse prions to >300 days, but made the mice susceptible to CWD prions. Our findings highlight the role of C-terminal residues in PrP that control the susceptibility and replication of prions.
PMCID: PMC3709613  PMID: 23100369
6.  Patterns of striatal degeneration in frontotemporal dementia 
Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia and semantic dementia have been associated with striatal degeneration, but few studies have delineated striatal subregion volumes in vivo or related them to clinical phenotype. We traced caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens on MR images to quantify volumes of these structures in behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, semantic dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and healthy controls (n = 12 per group). We further related these striatal volumes to clinical deficits and neuropathological findings in a subset of patients. Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia and semantic dementia showed significant overall striatal atrophy compared with controls. Moreover, behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia showed panstriatal degeneration whereas semantic dementia featured a more focal pattern involving putamen and accumbens. Right-sided striatal atrophy, especially in the putamen, correlated with overall behavioral symptom severity and with specific behavioral domains. At autopsy, patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia and semantic dementia showed striking and severe tau or TAR DNA-binding protein of 43 kDa pathology, especially in ventral parts of the striatum. These results demonstrate that ventral striatum degeneration is a prominent shared feature in behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia and semantic dementia and may contribute to social-emotional deficits common to both disorders.
PMCID: PMC3389579  PMID: 22367382
7.  Genetic CJD with a novel E200G mutation in the prion protein gene and comparison with E200K mutation cases 
A novel point mutation resulting in a glutamate-to-glycine substitution in PRNP at codon 200, E200G with codon 129 MV polymorphism (cis valine) and type 2 PrPSc was identified in a patient with a prolonged disease course leading to pathology-proven Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease. Despite the same codon as the most common genetic form of human PRNP mutation, E200K, this novel mutation (E200G) presented with a different clinical and pathological phenotype, including prolonged duration, large vacuoles, no vacuolation in the hippocampus, severe neuronal loss in the thalamus, mild cerebellar involvement, and abundant punctate linear and curvilinear deposition of PrPSc in synaptic boutons and axonal terminals along the dendrites.
PMCID: PMC3880091  PMID: 24330864
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; E200K; familial CJD; Synaptic PrPSc; Curvilinear PrPSc
8.  Clinical overlap between Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease and Lewy Body Disease 
Sporadic Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease (sCJD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) have overlapping clinical symptoms that can lead to their misdiagnosis. We delineated the clinical overlap between sCJD and DLB, and assessed the value of MRI to differentiate between them.
Medical records, MRI, EEG and CSF were reviewed from 56 sCJD and 30 DLB subjects.
46% of sCJD subjects met probable DLB criteria and 40% of DLB subjects met probable CJD criteria. A greater proportion of sCJD subjects had cerebellar signs (66% vs. 10%, p<0.001), myoclonus (64% vs. 30%, p=0.002), and visual symptoms (other than hallucinations) (61% vs. 7%, p<0.001), whereas more DLB subjects had hallucinations (70% vs. 39%, p=0.007) and fluctuations (57% vs. 23%, p=0.002). Cortical and/or basal ganglia MRI DWI hyperintensities consistent with sCJD were seen in 96% of sCJD subjects but in none with DLB. Logistic regression in sCJD revealed that those meeting probable DLB criteria were more likely to have occipital lobe involvement on MRI (OR 1.4, p=0.058, model p=0.022). Parietal lobe involvement on MRI was a predictor of “Other Focal Cortical signs” (OR 1.9, p=0.021) in sCJD. EEG and CSF assessments lacked sensitivity for sCJD as 48% of sCJD patients had a negative EEG and 67% of the 36 sCJD patents with a CSF evaluation, had a negative or inconclusive result. Too few DLB patients had EEG or CSF to assess their utility.
Sporadic CJD and DLB have significant symptom overlap. MRI helps differentiate these diseases and is related to the signs/symptoms observed in sCJD.
PMCID: PMC3590309  PMID: 22547509
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; Lewy body disease; Lewy body dementia; diffusion-weighted imaging; DWI
9.  Selective Frontoinsular von Economo Neuron and Fork Cell Loss in Early Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2011;22(2):251-259.
Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) erodes complex social–emotional functions as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and frontoinsula (FI) degenerate, but the early vulnerable neuron within these regions has remained uncertain. Previously, we demonstrated selective loss of ACC von Economo neurons (VENs) in bvFTD. Unlike ACC, FI contains a second conspicuous layer 5 neuronal morphotype, the fork cell, which has not been previously examined. Here, we investigated the selectivity, disease-specificity, laterality, timing, and symptom relevance of frontoinsular VEN and fork cell loss in bvFTD. Blinded, unbiased, systematic sampling was used to quantify bilateral FI VENs, fork cells, and neighboring neurons in 7 neurologically unaffected controls (NC), 5 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and 9 patients with bvFTD, including 3 who died of comorbid motor neuron disease during very mild bvFTD. bvFTD showed selective FI VEN and fork cell loss compared with NC and AD, whereas in AD no significant VEN or fork cell loss was detected. Although VEN and fork cell losses in bvFTD were often asymmetric, no group-level hemispheric laterality effects were identified. Right-sided VEN and fork cell losses, however, correlated with each other and with anatomical, functional, and behavioral severity. This work identifies region-specific neuronal targets in early bvFTD.
PMCID: PMC3256403  PMID: 21653702
Alzheimer's disease; behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia; fork cell; frontoinsula; von Economo neuron
10.  Safety and Tolerability of Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Guided Convection-Enhanced Delivery of AAV2-hAADC with a Novel Delivery Platform in Nonhuman Primate Striatum 
Human Gene Therapy  2011;23(2):210-217.
Degeneration of nigrostriatal neurons in Parkinson's disease (PD) causes progressive loss of aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC), the enzyme that converts levodopa (l-DOPA) into dopamine in the striatum. Because loss of this enzyme appears to be a major driver of progressive impairment of response to the mainstay drug, l-DOPA, one promising approach has been to use gene therapy to restore AADC activity in the human putamen and thereby restore normal l-DOPA response in patients with PD. An open-label phase I clinical trial of this approach in patients with PD provided encouraging signs of improvement in Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale scores and reductions in antiparkinsonian medications. However, such improvement was modest compared with the results previously reported in parkinsonian rhesus macaques. The reason for this discrepancy may have been that the relatively small volume of vector infused in the clinical study restricted the distribution of AADC expression, such that only about 20% of the postcommissural putamen was covered, as revealed by l-[3-18F]-α-methyltyrosine-positron emission tomography. To achieve more quantitative distribution of vector, we have developed a visual guidance system for parenchymal infusion of AAV2. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the combined magnetic resonance imaging-guided delivery system with AAV2-hAADC under conditions that approximate the intended clinical protocol. Our data indicate that this approach directed accurate cannula placement and effective vector distribution without inducing any untoward effects in nonhuman primates infused with a high dose of AAV2-hAADC.
San Sebastian and colleagues evaluate a magnetic resonance imaging-guided delivery system for CNS parenchymal infusion of adeno-associated viral type 2 (AAV2) vector encoding human aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase (hAADC), a key enzyme lost during Parkinson's disease progression. This visual guidance approach directs accurate cannula placement and allows for effective distribution of a high AAV2-hAADC dose in nonhuman primates without any adverse effects.
PMCID: PMC3277736  PMID: 22017504
11.  Levels of the Mahogunin Ring Finger 1 E3 Ubiquitin Ligase Do Not Influence Prion Disease 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55575.
Prion diseases are rare but invariably fatal neurodegenerative disorders. They are associated with spongiform encephalopathy, a histopathology characterized by the presence of large, membrane-bound vacuolar structures in the neuropil of the brain. While the primary cause is recognized as conversion of the normal form of prion protein (PrPC) to a conformationally distinct, pathogenic form (PrPSc), the cellular pathways and mechanisms that lead to spongiform change, neuronal dysfunction and death are not known. Mice lacking the Mahogunin Ring Finger 1 (MGRN1) E3 ubiquitin ligase develop spongiform encephalopathy by 9 months of age but do not become ill. In cell culture, PrP aberrantly present in the cytosol was reported to interact with and sequester MGRN1. This caused endo-lysosomal trafficking defects similar to those observed when Mgrn1 expression is knocked down, implicating disrupted MGRN1-dependent trafficking in the pathogenesis of prion disease. As these defects were rescued by over-expression of MGRN1, we investigated whether reduced or elevated Mgrn1 expression influences the onset, progression or pathology of disease in mice inoculated with PrPSc. No differences were observed, indicating that disruption of MGRN1-dependent pathways does not play a significant role in the pathogenesis of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.
PMCID: PMC3559536  PMID: 23383230
12.  Salivary prions in sheep and deer 
Prion  2012;6(1):52-61.
Scrapie of sheep and chronic wasting disease (CWD) of cervids are transmissible prion diseases. Milk and placenta have been identified as sources of scrapie prions but do not explain horizontal transmission. In contrast, CWD prions have been reported in saliva, urine and feces, which are thought to be responsible for horizontal transmission. While the titers of CWD prions have been measured in feces, levels in saliva or urine are unknown. Because sheep produce ∼17 L/day of saliva and scrapie prions are present in tongue and salivary glands of infected sheep, we asked if scrapie prions are shed in saliva. We inoculated transgenic (Tg) mice expressing ovine prion protein, Tg(OvPrP) mice, with saliva from seven Cheviot sheep with scrapie. Six of seven samples transmitted prions to Tg(OvPrP) mice with titers of −0.5 to 1.7 log ID50 U/ml. Similarly, inoculation of saliva samples from two mule deer with CWD transmitted prions to Tg(ElkPrP) mice with titers of −1.1 to −0.4 log ID50 U/ml. Assuming similar shedding kinetics for salivary prions as those for fecal prions of deer, we estimated the secreted salivary prion dose over a 10-mo period to be as high as 8.4 log ID50 units for sheep and 7.0 log ID50 units for deer. These estimates are similar to 7.9 log ID50 units of fecal CWD prions for deer. Because saliva is mostly swallowed, salivary prions may reinfect tissues of the gastrointestinal tract and contribute to fecal prion shedding. Salivary prions shed into the environment provide an additional mechanism for horizontal prion transmission.
PMCID: PMC3338966  PMID: 22453179
scrapie; chronic wasting disease; saliva; horizontal transmission; titers
13.  Identification of I137M and Other Mutations That Modulate Incubation Periods for Two Human Prion Strains 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(11):6033-6041.
We report here the transmission of human prions to 18 new transgenic (Tg) mouse lines expressing 8 unique chimeric human/mouse prion proteins (PrP). Extracts from brains of two patients, who died of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), contained either sCJD(MM1) or sCJD(VV2) prion strains and were used for inocula. Mice expressing chimeric PrP showed a direct correlation between expression level and incubation period for sCJD(MM1) prions irrespective of whether the transgene encoded methionine (M) or valine (V) at polymorphic residue 129. Tg mice expressing chimeric transgenes encoding V129 were unexpectedly resistant to infection with sCJD(VV2) prions, and when transmission did occur, it was accompanied by a change in strain type. The transmission of sCJD(MM1) prions was modulated by single amino acid reversions of each human PrP residue in the chimeric sequence. Reverting human residue 137 in the chimeric transgene from I to M prolonged the incubation time for sCJD(MM1) prions by more than 100 days; structural analyses suggest a profound change in the orientation of amino acid side chains with the I→M mutation. These findings argue that changing the surface charge in this region of PrP greatly altered the interaction between PrP isoforms during prion replication. Our studies contend that strain-specified replication of prions is modulated by PrP sequence-specific interactions between the prion precursor PrPC and the infectious product PrPSc.
PMCID: PMC3372217  PMID: 22438549
14.  Behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia with corticobasal degeneration pathology: Phenotypic comparison to bvFTD with Pick’s disease 
Patients with corticobasal degeneration (CBD) pathology present with diverse clinical syndromes also associated with other neuropathologies, including corticobasal syndrome, progressive nonfluent aphasia, and an Alzheimer’s-type dementia. Some present with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), though this subtype still requires more detailed phenotypic characterization. All patients with CBD pathology and clinical assessment were reviewed (N=17) and selected if they initially met criteria for bvFTD [bvFTD(CBD): N=5]. Available bvFTD patients with Pick’s [bvFTD(Pick’s): N=5] were selected as controls. Patients were also compared to healthy older controls [N=53] on neuropsychological and neuroimaging measures. At initial presentation, bvFTD(CBD) showed few neuropsychological or motor differences from bvFTD(Pick’s). Neuropsychiatrically, they were predominantly apathetic with less florid social disinhibition and eating disturbances, and were more anxious than bvFTD(Pick’s) patients. Voxel-based morphometry revealed similar patterns of predominantly frontal atrophy between bvFTD groups, though overall degree of atrophy was less severe in bvFTD(CBD), who also showed comparative preservation of the frontoinsular rim, with dorsal > ventral frontal atrophy, and sparing of temporal and parietal structures relative to bvFTD(Pick’s) patients. Despite remarkable overlap between the two patient types, bvFTD patients with underlying CBD pathology show subtle clinical features that may distinguish them from patients with Pick’s disease neuropathology.
PMCID: PMC3208125  PMID: 21881831
Corticobasal degeneration; frontotemporal dementia; behavior; neuropsychiatry; neuropsychology; neuropathology
15.  Conformational transformation and selection of synthetic prion strains 
Journal of molecular biology  2011;413(3):527-542.
The prion protein (PrP) is capable of folding into multiple self-replicating prion strains that produce phenotypically distinct neurological disorders. Although prion strains often breed true upon passage, they can also transform or “mutate” despite being devoid of nucleic acids. To dissect the mechanism of prion strain transformation, we studied the physicochemical evolution of a synthetic prion strain (MoSP1) after repeated passage in mice and cultured cells. We show that MoSP1 gradually adopted shorter incubation times and lower conformational stabilities. These changes were accompanied by a structural transformation as indicated by a shift in the molecular mass of the protease-resistant core of MoSP1 from approximately 19 kDa [MoSP1(2)] to 21 kDa [MoSP1(1)]. We show that MoSP1(1) and MoSP1(2) can breed with fidelity when cloned in cells, but when present as a mixture, MoSP1(1) preferentially proliferated, leading to the disappearance of MoSP1(2). In culture, the rate of this transformation process can be influenced by the nature of the culture media and the presence of polyamidoamines. Our findings demonstrate that prions can exist as a conformationally diverse population of strains, each capable of replicating with high fidelity. Rare conformational conversion, followed by competitive selection among the resulting pool of conformers, provides a mechanism for the adaptation of the prion population to their host environment.
PMCID: PMC3195964  PMID: 21839745
16.  Clinicopathological correlations in corticobasal degeneration 
Annals of neurology  2011;70(2):327-340.
To characterize cognitive and behavioral features, physical findings and brain atrophy patterns in pathology-proven corticobasal degeneration (CBD) and corticobasal syndrome (CBS) with known histopathology.
We reviewed clinical and MRI data in all patients evaluated at our center with either an autopsy diagnosis of CBD (n=18) or clinical CBS at first presentation with known histopathology (n=40). Atrophy patterns were compared using voxel-based morphometry.
CBD was associated with four clinical syndromes: progressive nonfluent aphasia (5), behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (5), executive-motor (7), and posterior cortical atrophy (1). Behavioral or cognitive problems were the initial symptoms in 15/18 patients; less than half exhibited early motor findings. Compared to controls, CBD patients showed atrophy in dorsal prefrontal and peri-rolandic cortex, striatum and brainstem (p<0.001 uncorrected). The most common pathologic substrates for clinical CBS were CBD (35%), Alzheimer’s disease (AD, 23%), progressive supranuclear palsy (13%), and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) with TDP inclusions (13%). CBS was associated with perirolandic atrophy irrespective of underlying pathology. In CBS due to FTLD (tau or TDP), atrophy extended into prefrontal cortex, striatum and brainstem, while in CBS due to AD, atrophy extended into temporoparietal cortex and precuneus (p<0.001 uncorrected).
Frontal lobe involvement is characteristic of CBD, and in many patients frontal, not parietal or basal ganglia symptoms, dominate early-stage disease. CBS is driven by medial peri-rolandic dysfunction, but this anatomy is not specific to one single underlying histopathology. Antemortem prediction of CBD will remain challenging until clinical features of CBD are redefined, and sensitive, specific biomarkers are identified.
PMCID: PMC3154081  PMID: 21823158
17.  Pharmacokinetics of Quinacrine Efflux from Mouse Brain via the P-glycoprotein Efflux Transporter 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e39112.
The lipophilic cationic compound quinacrine has been used as an antimalarial drug for over 75 years but its pharmacokinetic profile is limited. Here, we report on the pharmacokinetic properties of quinacrine in mice. Following an oral dose of 40 mg/kg/day for 30 days, quinacrine concentration in the brain of wild-type mice was maintained at a concentration of ∼1 µM. As a substrate of the P-glycoprotein (P-gp) efflux transporter, quinacrine is actively exported from the brain, preventing its accumulation to levels that may show efficacy in some disease models. In the brains of P-gp–deficient Mdr10/0 mice, we found quinacrine reached concentrations of ∼80 µM without any signs of acute toxicity. Additionally, we examined the distribution and metabolism of quinacrine in the wild-type and Mdr10/0 brains. In wild-type mice, the co-administration of cyclosporin A, a known P-gp inhibitor, resulted in a 6-fold increase in the accumulation of quinacrine in the brain. Our findings argue that the inhibition of the P-gp efflux transporter should improve the poor pharmacokinetic properties of quinacrine in the CNS.
PMCID: PMC3388068  PMID: 22768295
18.  Conserved properties of human and bovine prion strains on transmission to guinea pigs 
The first transmissions of human prion diseases to rodents used guinea pigs (Gps, Cavia porcellus). Later, transgenic (Tg) mice expressing human or chimeric human/mouse PrP replaced Gps, but the small size of the mouse limits some investigations. To investigate the fidelity of strain-specific prion transmission to Gps, we inoculated “type 1” and “type 2” prion strains into Gps: we measured the incubation times and determined the strain-specified size of the unglycosylated, protease-resistant (r) PrPSc fragment. Prions passaged once in Gps from cases of sporadic (s) Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker (GSS) disease caused by the P102L mutation were used as well as human prions from a variant (v) CJD case, bovine prions from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and mouse-passaged scrapie prions. Variant CJD and BSE prions transmitted to all the inoculated Gps with incubation times of 367 ± 4 d and 436 ± 28 d, respectively. On second passage in Gps, vCJD and BSE prions caused disease in 287 ± 4 d and 310 ± 4 d, while sCJD and GSS prions transmitted in 237 ± 4 d and 279 ± 19 d, respectively. Although hamster Sc237 prions transmitted to 2 of 3 Gps after 574 and 792 d, mouse-passaged RML and 301V prion strains, the latter derived from BSE prions, failed to transmit disease to Gps. Those Gps inoculated with vCJD or BSE prions exhibited “type 2” unglycosylated, rPrPSc (19 kDa) while those receiving sCJD or GSS prions displayed “type 1” prions (21 kDa), as determined by Western blotting. Such strain-specific properties were maintained in Gps as well as mice expressing a chimeric human/mouse transgene. Gps may prove particularly useful in further studies of novel human prions such as those causing vCJD.
PMCID: PMC3164925  PMID: 21727894
BSE; vCJD; sCJD; GSS; prions; guinea pig
19.  Clinical, neuroimaging and neuropathological features of a new chromosome 9p-linked FTD-ALS family 
Frontotemporal dementia-amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FTD-ALS) is a heritable form of FTD, but the gene(s) responsible for the majority of autosomal dominant FTD-ALS cases have yet to be found. Previous studies have identified a region on chromosome 9p that is associated with FTD and ALS.
The authors report the clinical, volumetric MRI, neuropathological and genetic features of a new chromosome 9p-linked FTD-ALS family, VSM-20.
Ten members of family VSM-20 displayed heterogeneous clinical phenotypes of isolated behavioural-variant FTD (bvFTD), ALS or a combination of the two. Parkinsonism was common, with one individual presenting with a corticobasal syndrome. Analysis of structural MRI scans from five affected family members revealed grey- and white-matter loss that was most prominent in the frontal lobes, with mild parietal and occipital lobe atrophy, but less temporal lobe atrophy than in 10 severity-matched sporadic bvFTD cases. Autopsy in three family members showed a consistent and unique subtype of FTLD-TDP pathology. Genome-wide linkage analysis conclusively linked family VSM-20 to a 28.3 cM region between D9S1808 and D9S251 on chromosome 9p, reducing the published minimal linked region to a 3.7 Mb interval. Genomic sequencing and expression analysis failed to identify mutations in the 10 known and predicted genes within this candidate region, suggesting that next-generation sequencing may be needed to determine the mutational mechanism associated with chromosome 9p-linked FTD-ALS.
Family VSM-20 significantly reduces the region linked to FTD-ALS on chromosome 9p. A distinct pattern of brain atrophy and neuropathological findings may help to identify other families with FTD-ALS caused by this genetic abnormality.
PMCID: PMC3017222  PMID: 20562461
20.  Intracerebral Infusion of Antisense Oligonucleotides Into Prion-infected Mice 
Mice deficient for the cellular prion protein (PrPC) do not develop prion disease; accordingly, gene-based strategies to diminish PrPC expression are of interest. We synthesized a series of chemically modified antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) targeted against mouse Prnp messenger RNA (mRNA) and identified those that were most effective in decreasing PrPC expression. Those ASOs were also evaluated in scrapie-infected cultured cells (ScN2a) for their efficacy in diminishing the levels of the disease-causing prion protein (PrPSc). When the optimal ASO was infused intracerebrally into FVB mice over a 14-day period beginning 1 day after infection with the Rocky Mountain Laboratory (RML) strain of mouse prions, a prolongation of the incubation period of almost 2 months was observed. Whether ASOs can be used to develop an effective therapy for patients dying of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease remains to be established.
PMCID: PMC3381600  PMID: 23344724
21.  Pathological Evidence that the T188R Mutation in PRNP Is Associated with Prion Disease 
Human prion diseases can be caused by mutations in the prion protein gene PRNP. Prion disease with mutations at codon 188 has been reported in 6 cases, but only 1 had the T188R mutation and it was not pathologically confirmed. We report the clinical, neuropsychological, imaging, genetic, and neuropathological features of a patient with familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), associated with a very rare PRNP mutation at T188R. The patient presented with prominent behavioral changes in addition to the more typical cognitive and motor impairments seen in sporadic CJD. The autopsy confirmed prion disease pathology. This case supports the pathogenicity of the T188 PRNP mutation, demonstrates the variability of clinical phenotypes associated with certain mutations and emphasizes the importance of testing for genetic prion disease in cases of apparently sporadic atypical dementia.
PMCID: PMC3136530  PMID: 21107135
Codon 188; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; Dementia; Genetic; Prion
22.  Down-Regulation of Shadoo in Prion Infections Traces a Pre-Clinical Event Inversely Related to PrPSc Accumulation 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(11):e1002391.
During prion infections of the central nervous system (CNS) the cellular prion protein, PrPC, is templated to a conformationally distinct form, PrPSc. Recent studies have demonstrated that the Sprn gene encodes a GPI-linked glycoprotein Shadoo (Sho), which localizes to a similar membrane environment as PrPC and is reduced in the brains of rodents with terminal prion disease. Here, analyses of prion-infected mice revealed that down-regulation of Sho protein was not related to Sprn mRNA abundance at any stage in prion infection. Down-regulation was robust upon propagation of a variety of prion strains in Prnpa and Prnpb mice, with the exception of the mouse-adapted BSE strain 301 V. In addition, Sho encoded by a TgSprn transgene was down-regulated to the same extent as endogenous Sho. Reduced Sho levels were not seen in a tauopathy, in chemically induced spongiform degeneration or in transgenic mice expressing the extracellular ADan amyloid peptide of familial Danish dementia. Insofar as prion-infected Prnp hemizygous mice exhibited accumulation of PrPSc and down-regulation of Sho hundreds of days prior to onset of neurologic symptoms, Sho depletion can be excluded as an important trigger for clinical disease or as a simple consequence of neuronal damage. These studies instead define a disease-specific effect, and we hypothesize that membrane-associated Sho comprises a bystander substrate for processes degrading PrPSc. Thus, while protease-resistant PrP detected by in vitro digestion allows post mortem diagnosis, decreased levels of endogenous Sho may trace an early response to PrPSc accumulation that operates in the CNS in vivo. This cellular response may offer new insights into the homeostatic mechanisms involved in detection and clearance of the misfolded proteins that drive prion disease pathogenesis.
Author Summary
In prion infections of the nervous system the cellular prion protein, PrPC, changes to a distinct form, PrPSc. Recent studies have demonstrated that another glycoprotein Shadoo (Sho), which occupies a similar membrane environment as PrPC, is reduced in the brains of rodents with terminal prion disease. Our analyses of prion-infected mice revealed that reduction of Sho protein was not due to reductions in the corresponding messenger RNA. Reduction in Sho was clearly evident upon propagation of a variety of prion strains, but was not seen in mice with other types of neurodegenerative disease. Also, as prion-infected mice with only one copy of the PrP gene exhibited both accumulation of PrPSc and a reduction of Sho protein hundreds of days prior to onset of neurologic symptoms, the drop in Sho protein level can be excluded as an important trigger for clinical disease, or a non-specific consequence of brain cell damage. Instead, our studies define a effect restricted to prion disease and we hypothesize that Sho protein is a “bystander” for degradative processes aimed at destroying PrPSc.
PMCID: PMC3219720  PMID: 22114562
23.  Protease-Resistant Prions Selectively Decrease Shadoo Protein 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(11):e1002382.
The central event in prion diseases is the conformational conversion of the cellular prion protein (PrPC) into PrPSc, a partially protease-resistant and infectious conformer. However, the mechanism by which PrPSc causes neuronal dysfunction remains poorly understood. Levels of Shadoo (Sho), a protein that resembles the flexibly disordered N-terminal domain of PrPC, were found to be reduced in the brains of mice infected with the RML strain of prions [1], implying that Sho levels may reflect the presence of PrPSc in the brain. To test this hypothesis, we examined levels of Sho during prion infection using a variety of experimental systems. Sho protein levels were decreased in the brains of mice, hamsters, voles, and sheep infected with different natural and experimental prion strains. Furthermore, Sho levels were decreased in the brains of prion-infected, transgenic mice overexpressing Sho and in infected neuroblastoma cells. Time-course experiments revealed that Sho levels were inversely proportional to levels of protease-resistant PrPSc. Membrane anchoring and the N-terminal domain of PrP both influenced the inverse relationship between Sho and PrPSc. Although increased Sho levels had no discernible effect on prion replication in mice, we conclude that Sho is the first non-PrP marker specific for prion disease. Additional studies using this paradigm may provide insight into the cellular pathways and systems subverted by PrPSc during prion disease.
Author Summary
Shadoo is a protein that resembles the prion protein, which causes prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and “mad cow” disease. In this paper, we demonstrate that during prion disease in animals, levels of Shadoo were reduced in the brain and correlated with levels of infectious prions. This phenomenon occurred following infection with 14 different prion strains but was not observed following the accumulation of other aggregated proteins, including those that cause Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Thus, Shadoo levels in the brain are a specific indicator of prion disease status, and it may be possible to exploit this observation for diagnostic purposes. Although we show that Shadoo itself is unlikely to influence prion disease, using Shadoo as a tool to probe the biology of prions may be a useful strategy for deciphering how prions damage the brain.
PMCID: PMC3219722  PMID: 22163178
24.  Asymptomatic deer excrete infectious prions in feces 
Nature  2009;461(7263):529-532.
Infectious prion diseases 1 – scrapie of sheep 2 and chronic wasting disease (CWD) of several species in the deer family 3,4 – are transmitted naturally within affected host populations. Although several possible sources of contagion have been identified in excretions and secretions from symptomatic animals 5–8, the biological importance of these sources in sustaining epidemics remains unclear. Here we show that asymptomatic CWD-infected mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) excrete CWD prions in their feces long before they develop clinical signs of prion disease. Intracerebral (i.c.) inoculation of irradiated deer feces into transgenic (Tg) mice overexpressing cervid PrP revealed infectivity in 14 of 15 fecal samples collected from 5 deer at 7–11 months before the onset of neurological disease. Although prion concentrations in deer feces were considerably lower than in brain tissue from the same deer collected at the disease terminus, the estimated total infectious dose excreted in feces by an infected deer over the disease course may approximate the total contained in brain tissue. Prolonged fecal prion excretion by infected deer provides a plausible natural mechanism that might explain the high incidence and efficient horizontal transmission of CWD within deer herds 3,4,9, as well as prion transmission between susceptible deer species.
PMCID: PMC3186440  PMID: 19741608
25.  Human prion strain selection in transgenic mice 
Annals of neurology  2010;68(2):151-161.
Transgenic (Tg) mice expressing chimeras of mouse and human prion proteins (PrP) have shorter incubation periods for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) prions than mice expressing full-length human PrP. Increasing the sequence similarity of the chimeric PrP to mouse PrP, by reverting human residues to mouse, resulted in a Tg line, denoted Tg22372, which was susceptible to sporadic (s) CJD prions in ~110 days 1. Reversion of one additional residue (M111V) resulted in a new Tg line, termed Tg1014, susceptible to sCJD prions in ~75 days. Tg1014 mice also has shorter incubation periods for variant (v) CJD prions, providing a more tractable model for studying this prion strain. Transmission of vCJD prions to Tg1014 mice resulted in two different strains, determined by neuropathology and biochemical analysis, which correlated with the length of the incubation time. One strain had the biochemical, neuropathological, and transmission characteristics including longer incubation times of the inoculated vCJD strain; the second strain produced a phenotype resembling that of sCJD prions including relatively shorter incubation periods. Mice with intermediate incubation periods for vCJD prions had a mixture of the two strains. Both strains were serially transmitted in Tg1014 mice, which led to further reduction in incubation periods. Conversion of vCJD-like to sCJD-like strains was favored in Tg1014 mice more than in the Tg22372 line. The single amino acid difference therefore appears to offer selective pressure for propagation of the sCJD-like strain. These two Tg mouse lines provide relatively rapid models to study human prion diseases as well as the evolution of human prion strains.
PMCID: PMC2935907  PMID: 20695008

Results 1-25 (51)