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J Virol. Nov 1997; 71(11): 8821–8831.
PMCID: PMC192348

A hypothalamic neuronal cell line persistently infected with scrapie prions exhibits apoptosis.


Neuronal death and vacuolation are characteristics of the CNS degeneration found in prion diseases. Relatively few cultured cell lines have been identified that can be persistently infected with scrapie prions, and none of these cells show cytopathologic changes reminiscent of prion neuropathology. The differentiated neuronal cell line GT1, established from gonadotropin hormone releasing-hormone neurons immortalized by genetically targeted tumorigenesis in transgenic mice (P. L. Mellon, JJ. Windle, P. C. Goldsmith, C. A. Padula, J. L. Roberts, and R. I. Weiner, Neuron 5:1-10, 1990), was examined for its ability to support prion formation. We found that GT1 cells could be persistently infected with mouse RML prions and that conditioned medium from infected cells could transfer prions to uninfected cells. In many but not all experiments, a subpopulation of cells showed reduced viability, morphological signs of neurodegeneration and vacuolation, and features of apoptosis. Subclones of GT1 cells that were stably transfected with the trk4 gene encoding the high-affinity nerve growth factor (NGF) receptor (GT1-trk) could also be persistently infected. NGF increased the viability of the scrapie-infected GT1-trk cells and reduced the morphological and biochemical signs of vacuolation and apoptosis. GT1 cells represent a novel system for studying the molecular mechanisms underlying prion infectivity and subsequent neurodegenerative changes.

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