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Prion. 2009 Oct-Dec;3(4):206-12. Epub 2009 Oct 4.

Prion-like propagation of cytosolic protein aggregates: insights from cell culture models.

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Institute of Virology, Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany.


Amyloid formation is a hallmark of several systemic and neurodegenerative diseases. Extracellular amyloid deposits or intracellular inclusions arise from the conformational transition of normally soluble proteins into highly ordered fibrillar aggregates. Amyloid fibrils are formed by nucleated polymerization, a process also shared by prions, proteinaceous infectious agents identified in mammals and fungi. Unlike so called non-infectious amyloids, the aggregation phenotype of prion proteins can be efficiently transmitted between cells and organisms. Recent discoveries in vivo now implicate that even disease-associated intracellular protein aggregates consisting of alpha-synuclein or Tau have the capacity to seed aggregation of homotypic native proteins and might propagate their amyloid states in a prion-like manner. Studies in tissue culture demonstrate that aggregation of diverse intracellular amyloidogenic proteins can be induced by exogenous fibrillar seeds. Still, a prerequisite for prion-like propagation is the fragmentation of proteinaceous aggregates into smaller seeds that can be transmitted to daughter cells. So far efficient propagation of the aggregation phenotype in the absence of exogenous seeds was only observed for a yeast prion domain expressed in tissue culture. Intrinsic properties of amyloidogenic protein aggregates and a suitable host environment likely determine if a protein polymer can propagate in a prion-like manner in the mammalian cytosol.

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