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Acta Neuropathol. 2011 Jan;121(1):69-77. doi: 10.1007/s00401-010-0735-5. Epub 2010 Aug 8.

Molecular pathology of human prion disease.

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MRC Prion Unit, Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, UCL Institute of Neurology, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London, WC1N 3BG, UK.


Human prion diseases are associated with a range of clinical presentations and are classified by both clinicopathological syndrome and aetiology with sub-classification according to molecular criteria. Considerable experimental evidence suggests that phenotypic diversity in human prion disease relates in significant part to the existence of distinct human prion strains encoded by abnormal PrP isoforms with differing physicochemical properties. To date, however, the conformational repertoire of pathological isoforms of wild-type human PrP and the various forms of mutant human PrP has not been fully defined. Efforts to produce a unified international classification of human prion disease are still ongoing. The ability of genetic background to influence prion strain selection together with knowledge of numerous other factors that may influence clinical and neuropathological presentation strongly emphasises the requirement to identify distinct human prion strains in appropriate transgenic models, where host genetic variability and other modifiers of phenotype are removed. Defining how many human prion strains exist allied with transgenic modelling of potentially zoonotic prion strains will inform on how many human infections may have an animal origin. Understanding these relationships will have direct translation to protecting public health.

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