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1.  Docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids increase prion formation in neuronal cells 
BMC Biology  2008;6:39.
The transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, otherwise known as prion diseases, occur following the conversion of the cellular prion protein (PrPC) to an alternatively folded, disease-associated isoform (PrPSc). Recent studies suggest that this conversion occurs via a cholesterol-sensitive process, as cholesterol synthesis inhibitors reduced the formation of PrPSc and delayed the clinical phase of scrapie infection. Since polyunsaturated fatty acids also reduced cellular cholesterol levels we tested their effects on PrPSc formation in three prion-infected neuronal cell lines (ScGT1, ScN2a and SMB cells).
We report that treatment with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or the cholesterol synthesis inhibitor simvastatin reduced the amounts of free cholesterol in membrane extracts from prion-infected neuronal cells. Simvastatin reduced cholesterol production while DHA and EPA promoted the conversion of free cholesterol to cholesterol esters. Crucially, while simvastatin reduced PrPSc formation, both DHA and EPA significantly increased the amounts of PrPSc in these cells. Unlike simvastatin, the effects of DHA and EPA on PrPSc content were not reversed by stimulation of cholesterol synthesis with mevalonate. Treatment of ScGT1 cells with DHA and EPA also increased activation of cytoplasmic phospholipase A2 and prostaglandin E2 production. Finally, treatment of neuronal cells with DHA and EPA increased the amounts of PrPC expressed at the cell surface and significantly increased the half-life of biotinylated PrPC.
We report that although treatment with DHA or EPA significantly reduced the free cholesterol content of prion-infected cells they significantly increased PrPSc formation in three neuronal cell lines. DHA or EPA treatment of infected cells increased activation of phospholipase A2, a key enzyme in PrPSc formation, and altered the trafficking of PrPC. PrPC expression at the cell surface, a putative site for the PrPSc formation, was significantly increased, and the rate at which PrPC was degraded was reduced. Cholesterol depletion is seen as a potential therapeutic strategy for prion diseases. However, these results indicate that a greater understanding of the precise relationship between membrane cholesterol distribution, PrPC trafficking, cell activation and PrPSc formation is required before cholesterol manipulation can be considered as a prion therapeutic.
PMCID: PMC2556658  PMID: 18789130
2.  Sequestration of free cholesterol in cell membranes by prions correlates with cytoplasmic phospholipase A2 activation 
BMC Biology  2008;6:8.
The transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), otherwise known as the prion diseases, occur following the conversion of the normal cellular prion protein (PrPC) to an alternatively folded isoform (PrPSc). The accumulation of PrPSc within the brain leads to neurodegeneration through an unidentified mechanism. Since many neurodegenerative disorders including prion, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases may be modified by cholesterol synthesis inhibitors, the effects of prion infection on the cholesterol balance within neuronal cells were examined.
We report the novel observation that prion infection altered the membrane composition and significantly increased total cholesterol levels in two neuronal cell lines (ScGT1 and ScN2a cells). There was a significant correlation between the concentration of free cholesterol in ScGT1 cells and the amounts of PrPSc. This increase was entirely a result of increased amounts of free cholesterol, as prion infection reduced the amounts of cholesterol esters in cells. These effects were reproduced in primary cortical neurons by the addition of partially purified PrPSc, but not by PrPC. Crucially, the effects of prion infection were not a result of increased cholesterol synthesis. Stimulating cholesterol synthesis via the addition of mevalonate, or adding exogenous cholesterol, had the opposite effect to prion infection on the cholesterol balance. It did not affect the amounts of free cholesterol within neurons; rather, it significantly increased the amounts of cholesterol esters. Immunoprecipitation studies have shown that cytoplasmic phospholipase A2 (cPLA2) co-precipitated with PrPSc in ScGT1 cells. Furthermore, prion infection greatly increased both the phosphorylation of cPLA2 and prostaglandin E2 production.
Prion infection, or the addition of PrPSc, increased the free cholesterol content of cells, a process that could not be replicated by the stimulation of cholesterol synthesis. The presence of PrPSc increased solubilisation of free cholesterol in cell membranes and affected their function. It increased activation of the PLA2 pathway, previously implicated in PrPSc formation and in PrPSc-mediated neurotoxicity. These observations suggest that the neuropathogenesis of prion diseases results from PrPSc altering cholesterol-sensitive processes. Furthermore, they raise the possibility that disturbances in membrane cholesterol are major triggering events in neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC2270799  PMID: 18269734

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