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J Neurosci. 2006 Nov 29;26(48):12408-14.

Accelerated accumulation of misfolded prion protein and spongiform degeneration in a Drosophila model of Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker syndrome.

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Department of Biology, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, USA.


Prion diseases are CNS disorders that can occur in sporadic, infectious, and inherited forms. Although all forms of prion disease are associated with the accumulation of pathogenic conformers of the prion protein, collectively termed PrP(Sc), the mechanisms by which PrP(Sc) molecules form and cause neuronal degeneration are unknown. Using the bipartite galactosidase-4-upstream activating sequence expression system, we generated transgenic Drosophila melanogaster heterologously expressing either wild-type (WT) or mutant, disease-associated (P101L) mouse PrP molecules in cholinergic neurons. Transgenic flies expressing neuronal P101L PrP molecules exhibited severe locomotor dysfunction and premature death as larvae and adults. These striking clinical abnormalities were accompanied by age-dependent accumulation of misfolded PrP molecules, intracellular PrP aggregates, and neuronal vacuoles. In contrast, transgenic flies expressing comparable levels of WT PrP displayed no clinical, pathological, or biochemical abnormalities. These results indicate that transgenic Drosophila expressing neuronal P101L PrP specifically exhibit several hallmark features of human Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker (GSS) syndrome. Because the rates of abnormal PrP accumulation and clinical progression are highly accelerated in Drosophila compared with the rates of these processes in rodents or humans, the P101L mutant may be used for future genetic and pharmacologic studies as a novel invertebrate model of GSS.

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