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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2009 Feb 6;379(2):171-4. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2008.12.026. Epub 2008 Dec 25.

From cell protection to death: may Ca2+ signals explain the chameleonic attributes of the mammalian prion protein?

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Department of Biological Chemistry and CNR Institute of Neuroscience, University of Padova, Viale G. Colombo 3, 35131 Padova, Italy.


It is now accepted that a conformational change of the cellular prion protein (PrP(C)) generates the prion, the infectious agent responsible for lethal neurodegenerative disorders, named transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or prion diseases. The mechanisms of prion-associated neurodegeneration are still obscure, as is the cell role of PrP(C), although increasing evidence attributes to PrP(C) important functions in cell survival. Such a behavioral dichotomy thus enables the prion protein to switch from a benign role under normal conditions, to the execution of neurons during disease. By reviewing data from models of prion disease and PrP(C)-null paradigms, which suggest a relation between the prion protein and Ca(2+) homeostasis, here we discuss the possibility that Ca(2+) is the factor behind the enigma of the pathophysiology of PrP(C). Ca(2+) features in almost all processes of cell signaling, and may thus tell us much about a protein that pivots between health and disease.

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