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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Apr 23;110(17):7044-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1303510110. Epub 2013 Apr 1.

Unique drug screening approach for prion diseases identifies tacrolimus and astemizole as antiprion agents.

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  • 1Department of Infectious Diseases, The Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Florida, Jupiter, FL 33458, USA.


Prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) are incurable and rapidly fatal neurodegenerative diseases. Because prion protein (PrP) is necessary for prion replication but dispensable for the host, we developed the PrP-FRET-enabled high throughput assay (PrP-FEHTA) to screen for compounds that decrease PrP expression. We screened a collection of drugs approved for human use and identified astemizole and tacrolimus, which reduced cell-surface PrP and inhibited prion replication in neuroblastoma cells. Tacrolimus reduced total cellular PrP levels by a nontranscriptional mechanism. Astemizole stimulated autophagy, a hitherto unreported mode of action for this pharmacophore. Astemizole, but not tacrolimus, prolonged the survival time of prion-infected mice. Astemizole is used in humans to treat seasonal allergic rhinitis in a chronic setting. Given the absence of any treatment option for CJD patients and the favorable drug characteristics of astemizole, including its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, it may be considered as therapy for CJD patients and for prophylactic use in familial prion diseases. Importantly, our results validate PrP-FEHTA as a method to identify antiprion compounds and, more generally, FEHTA as a unique drug discovery platform.

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