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Mol Neurodegener. 2010 Jan 21;5:6. doi: 10.1186/1750-1326-5-6.

PrPSc accumulation in neuronal plasma membranes links Notch-1 activation to dendritic degeneration in prion diseases.

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Department of Pathology, University of California San Francisco, 1855 Folsom Street MCB 269, San Francisco, CA 94143-0803, USA.


Prion diseases are disorders of protein conformation in which PrPC, the normal cellular conformer, is converted to an abnormal, protease-resistant conformer rPrPSc. Approximately 80% of rPrPSc accumulates in neuronal plasma membranes where it changes their physical properties and profoundly affects membrane functions. In this review we explain how rPrPSc is transported along axons to presynaptic boutons and how we envision the conversion of PrPC to rPrPSc in the postsynaptic membrane. This information is a prerequisite to the second half of this review in which we present evidence that rPrPSc accumulation in synaptic regions links Notch-1 signaling with the dendritic degeneration. The hypothesis that the Notch-1 intracellular domain, NICD, is involved in prion disease was tested by treating prion-infected mice with the gamma-secretase inhibitor (GSI) LY411575, with quinacrine (Qa), and with the combination of GSI + Qa. Surprisingly, treatment with GSI alone markedly decreased NICD but did not prevent dendritic degeneration. Qa alone produced near normal dendritic trees. The combined GSI + Qa treatment resulted in a richer dendritic tree than in controls. We speculate that treatment with GSI alone inhibited both stimulators and inhibitors of dendritic growth. With the combined GSI + Qa treatment, Qa modulated the effect of GSI perhaps by destabilizing membrane rafts. GSI + Qa decreased PrPSc in the neocortex and the hippocampus by 95%, but only by 50% in the thalamus where disease was begun by intrathalamic inoculation of prions. The results of this study indicate that GSI + Qa work synergistically to prevent dendrite degeneration and to block formation of PrPSc.

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