Investigating the relationship between abnormal prion protein (PrPSc) and the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) infectious agent
Dobie, Karen Louise
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Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are a group of fatal, neurodegenerative diseases that can affect both humans and animals. TSEs can be sporadic, familial, or acquired diseases. The prion hypothesis states that a misfolded form of the host glycoprotein, PrPC, acts as the infectious agent in TSE disease. The misfolded form, PrPSc, is increased in β-sheet content, detergent insoluble and partially resistant to proteinase K (PK) digestion. Based on the prion hypothesis, most current post-mortem diagnostic tests rely on the presence of PrPSc as indicative of TSE disease. However, recently experimental cases of TSE disease have been identified where no PrPSc deposition is evident. One example of this is a murine transgenic model of Gerstmann Sträussler Scheinker (GSS) disease. GSS is a familial TSE disease, caused by a number of different mutations in human PrP including a point mutation from proline to leucine at residue 102. A murine model of GSS disease, produced through gene-targeting, contains the same point mutation at the equivalent residue, 101, in murine PrP. These mice do not develop spontaneous disease during their lifespan, but when inoculated intra-cerebrally with either human P102L GSS (101LL/GSS) or hamster 263K scrapie (101LL/263K); develop a clinical disease and vacuolar TSE-related pathology. Upon biochemical and immunohistochemical analysis, the brain tissues of these clinically ill mice contain little or no detectable PrPSc. However titration experiments have previously shown infectivity titres of 107-109IU/g of brain tissue. Standard PK digestion (at 37°C), NaPTA precipitation and isolation of PrPSc through detergent insolubility and differential centrifugation all confirmed the observation of little or no detectable PK-resistant PrP (PrP-res) in the 101LL/GSS and 101LL/263K brain tissues, despite the high levels of TSE infectivity. The presence of PrPSc and/or TSE infectivity in the spleen during disease pathogenesis is dependent upon TSE agent strain and host species. Previous studies utilising wild-type mice infected with ME7, have shown that the levels of infectivity observed in spleen tissue are 2- 3log10 lower than those observed in the brain tissue of the same mice. However, experiments conducted as part of this thesis showed that sub-passage of both the brain and spleen tissue from clinically ill 101LL/GSS and 101LL/263K mice into 101LL mice by intra-cerebral inoculation result in short incubation periods, indicating that infectivity levels were similarly high in both tissues. Biochemical analysis of the primary spleen tissue identified the presence of PrP-res, albeit at lower levels than those observed in wild-type spleens infected with a standard laboratory TSE strain, ME7 or 79A. However, the presence of PrP-res indicates that the spleen has a role in disease pathogenesis, which will require further investigation. Additionally, the spleen tissue maintains the discrepancy between PrP-res and TSE infectivity that is observed in the brain tissue of these models and further questions the prion hypothesis. As little or no PrP-res was detectable in the brain tissues of 101LL/GSS and 101LL/263K mice by standard biochemical and immunohistochemical techniques, it was hypothesised that an in vitro amplification technique, protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) could amplify PrPSc to detectable levels. A series of optimisation experiments were performed to produce a reliable positive control for amplification of mouse PrPSc from a standard laboratory mouse TSE strain, 79A or ME7, with a normal wild-type mouse brain homogenate substrate. While a wide range of technical and experimental conditions were investigated, consistent and reproducible amplification of mouse PrPSc was not achieved and therefore amplification of PrPSc from 101LL/GSS and 101LL/263K tissues could not be performed as interpretation of results would be complicated without the presence of a positive control. Previous research has shown that while other commercial assays, e.g. TeSeE (BioRad), identified tissues from these models as borderline positive or negative for TSE disease, one TSE diagnostic assay, the IDEXX HerdChek kit, that utilises the Seprion ligand, identified both the brain and spleen tissue from 101LL/GSS and 101LL/263K clinical mice as positive for TSE disease. In order to identify if TSE infectivity is associated with the target of the Seprion ligand, brain tissue homogenates from 101LL/GSS, 101LL/263K and a positive control wild-type/79A homogenate were depleted of the Seprion ligand target utilising a PAD-beads kit (Microsens Biotechnologies), which incorporates the Seprion ligand as the capture agent, in combination with magnetic beads. Upon inoculation, a single depletion of the homogenates produced no significant reduction in incubation period to clinical disease in either the depleted homogenates or the wash buffers produced, in comparison to a non-depleted brain homogenate. This result indicates that a single depletion with the Seprion ligand, did not remove enough of the aggregated protein to significantly alter the level of infectivity in the depleted homogenate and that any infectious agent, which was initially bound to the Seprion ligand due to non-specific interactions, was then released during the wash steps of the procedure. Proteomic differences between all components produced during a single depletion of an infected brain homogenate, wild-type/79A, or a normal uninfected brain homogenate were assessed to potentially identify the target of the Seprion ligand. In conclusion, these murine models of TSE disease, 101LL/GSS and 101LL/263K, which contain both high infectivity levels with little or no PrP-res in the brain tissue and similar high levels of infectivity with low levels of PrP-res in the spleen, questions the accepted correlation between levels of infectivity and PrP-res or PrPSc as proposed by the prion hypothesis. It is hypothesised that either an alternative form of PrP, which has not yet been identified is the infectious agent in these disease models, or that the TSE infectious agent is a component which associates with PrPSc rather than being PrPSc itself. The eventual identification of the infectious agent present in these unusual disease models will increase our understanding of these diseases, potentially offer improved diagnostics for infectivity, and perhaps identify novel therapeutic targets.