Modelling human prion replication in cell-free systems
Barria Matus, Marcelo Alejandro
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One of the key molecular events in the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases is the conformational conversion of the cellular prion protein PrPC into the misfolded and pathogenic isoform, PrPSc. Prion diseases are fatal neurodegenerative conditions affecting humans and other animal species, which present with diverse clinical and neuropathological phenotypes. In humans, prion diseases can occur as sporadic, familial or acquired forms. Sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (sCJD) accounts for the majority of cases. The current classification system of human prion diseases recognizes several distinct clinico-pathological entities including sCJD, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), Gerstmann–Straussler–Scheinker syndrome, fatal familial insomnia and variably protease-sensitive proteinopathy. Prion protein gene (PRNP) mutations and polymorphisms, and PrPSc types have a profound effect on these clinico-pathological phenotypes. Prion diseases of sheep and goats, cattle, and cervids are all actual animal health problems and present potential risks to human health. Thus far the only known zoonotic prion disease is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which has resulted in vCJD in humans. The recognition of new forms of prion diseases in animal and humans has generated increased awareness of the animal and public health risks associated with prion disease. However the mechanisms involved in prion replication, transmission, and neurodegeneration remain poorly understood. This thesis uses in vitro PrP conversion assays (protein misfolding cyclic amplification and real time quaking-induced conversion) to model different aspects of human prion replication: Molecular susceptibility, genetic compatibility, spontaneous formation and the effect of molecules that might enhance or prevent conversion were each investigated in order to obtain a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of the prion replication. I have addressed the hypothesis that the major determinant factors in prion disease pathogenesis (PRNP genetics, PrPSc types and species barriers) are intrinsic to the prion protein conversion process and their effects can be faithfully recapitulated by in vitro conversion assays. The results shows that in vitro conversion assays used in this thesis can model the combined effects of different PrP type and genotypes, can replicate aspects of cross-species transmission potential and provide information about molecular barrier to zoonotic transmission, can model de novo PrPSc formation, and can assess the potential impact of chaperones on conversion of the human prion protein. In summary, this work provides evidence that the origin, propagation and transmission of prions can be meaningfully investigated in cell-free systems.