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Small loop in human prion protein prevents chronic wasting disease

Date:
February 24, 2015
Source:
University of California, San Diego Health Sciences
Summary:
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects North American elk and deer, but has not been observed in humans. Using a mouse model that expresses an altered form of the normal human prion protein, researchers have determined why the human proteins aren’t corrupted when exposed to the elk prions. Their study identifies a small loop in the human prion protein that confers resistance to chronic wasting disease.
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Prion protein aggregates (brown) in the brain of a mouse expressing the human-elk protein.
Credit: UC San Diego School of Medicine

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) -- an infectious disease caused by prions -- affects North American elk and deer, but has not been observed in humans. Using a mouse model that expresses an altered form of the normal human prion protein, researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have determined why the human proteins aren't corrupted when exposed to the elk prions. Their study, published Feb. 23 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, identifies a small loop in the human prion protein that confers resistance to chronic wasting disease.

"Since the loop has been found to be a key segment in prion protein aggregation, this site could be targeted for the development of new therapeutics designed to block prion conversion," said Christina Sigurdson, DVM, PhD, associate professor at UC San Diego and UC Davis and senior author of the study.

Prions aren't microorganisms like bacteria or viruses; they're simply protein aggregates. Some prion diseases are caused by an inherited genetic mutation, while others are caused by exposure to infectious prions in food. Acquired prion diseases are triggered when a foreign, misfolded prion protein causes the body's own natural prion proteins to misfold and aggregate. In addition to chronic wasting disease, examples include scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (or "mad cow disease") in animals and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. In humans, prion diseases can cause a variety of rapidly progressive neurological symptoms, such as difficulty walking and speaking, and dementia. These diseases are 100 percent fatal and there is currently no effective treatment.

"We suspected that a loop in the human prion protein structure may block the elk prions from binding, as the sequences did not appear to be compatible," Sigurdson said.

To test this hypothesis, Sigurdson and her team developed a transgenic mouse that expresses a prion protein that's identical to the human version -- except for a small loop, which they swapped out for the elk prion sequence. When these mice were exposed to the elk prions, they developed chronic wasting disease.

In contrast, control mice expressing the normal human prion sequence resisted infection when exposed to same materials -- just as humans seem to, even those who consume venison meat.

"This finding suggests that the loop structure is crucial to prion conversion and that sequence compatibility with the host prion protein at this site is required for the transmission of certain prion diseases," Sigurdson said.


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. Original written by Heather Buschman. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Timothy D. Kurt, Lin Jiang, Natalia Fernández-Borges, Cyrus Bett, Jun Liu, Tom Yang, Terry R. Spraker, Joaquín Castilla, David Eisenberg, Qingzhong Kong, Christina J. Sigurdson. Human prion protein sequence elements impede cross-species chronic wasting disease transmission. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2015; DOI: 10.1172/JCI79408

Cite This Page:

University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. "Small loop in human prion protein prevents chronic wasting disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 February 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150224083314.htm>.
University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. (2015, February 24). Small loop in human prion protein prevents chronic wasting disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 28, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150224083314.htm
University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. "Small loop in human prion protein prevents chronic wasting disease." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150224083314.htm (accessed May 28, 2017).

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