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J Neurochem. 1999 Sep;73(3):1105-13.

Prion protein peptide neurotoxicity can be mediated by astrocytes.

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Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge University, England.


A peptide based on amino acids 106-126 of the sequence of human prion protein (PrP106-126) is neurotoxic in culture. A role for astrocytes mediating PrP106-126 toxicity was investigated. The toxicity of PrP106-126 to cerebellar cell cultures was reduced by aminoadipate, a gliotoxin. Normally, PrP106-126 is not toxic to cultures containing neurones deficient in the cellular isoform of prion protein (PrPc). However, PrP106-126 was toxic to cerebellar cells derived from Prnp(0/0) mice (deficient in PrPc expression) when those cerebellar cells were cocultured with astrocytes. This toxicity was found to occur only in the presence of PrPc-positive astrocytes and to be mediated by glutamate. Furthermore, PrPc-positive astrocytes were shown to protect Prnp(0/0) cerebellar cells from glutamate toxicity. This effect could be inhibited by PrP106-126. PrP106-126 did not enhance the toxicity of glutamate to neurones directly. When cerebellar cells were cocultured with astrocytes, the neurones became dependent on astrocytes for protection from glutamate toxicity and expressed an increased sensitivity to glutamate. In such a system, the protective effects of astrocytes against glutamate toxicity to neurones were inhibited by PrP106-126, resulting in a greater reduction in neuronal survival than would have been caused by PrP106-126 when astrocytes were not present. This new model provides a possible mechanism by which the gliosis in prion disease may accelerate the neurodegeneration seen in the later stages of the disease.

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