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Neurotoxicology. 2006 Sep;27(5):777-87. Epub 2006 Jun 18.

Interaction of metals with prion protein: possible role of divalent cations in the pathogenesis of prion diseases.

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Parkinson's Disorder Research Laboratory, Iowa Center for Advanced Neurotoxicology, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Iowa State University, 2062 Veterinary Medicine Building, Ames, IA 50011-1250, USA.


Prion diseases are fatal neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. The rapid clinical progression, change in protein conformation, cross-species transmission and massive neuronal degeneration are some key features of this devastating degenerative condition. Although the etiology is unknown, aberrant processing of cellular prion proteins is well established in the pathogenesis of prion diseases. Normal cellular prion protein (PrP(c)) is highly conserved in mammals and expressed predominantly in the brain. Nevertheless, the exact function of the normal prion protein in the CNS has not been fully elucidated. Prion proteins may function as a metal binding protein because divalent cations such as copper, zinc and manganese can bind to octapeptide repeat sequences in the N-terminus of PrP(c). Since the binding of these metals to the octapeptide has been proposed to influence both structural and functional properties of prion proteins, alterations in transition metal levels can alter the course of the disease. Furthermore, cellular antioxidant capacity is significantly compromised due to conversion of the normal prion protein (PrP(c)) to an abnormal scrapie prion (PrP(sc)) protein, suggesting that oxidative stress may play a role in the neurodegenerative process of prion diseases. The combination of imbalances in cellular transition metals and increased oxidative stress could further exacerbate the neurotoxic effect of PrP(sc). This review includes an overview of the structure and function of prion proteins, followed by the role of metals such as copper, manganese and iron in the physiological function of the PrP(c), and the possible role of transition metals in the pathogenesis of the prion disease.

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