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Prion. 2011 Apr-Jun;5(2):88-92. Epub 2011 Apr 1.

Prion protein function and the disturbance of early embryonic development in zebrafish.

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Department of Basic Sciences and Aquatic Medicine, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Oslo, Norway.


Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) or prion diseases are a threat to food safety and to human and animal health. The molecular mechanisms responsible for prion diseases share similarities with a wider group of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer disease and Parkinson disease and the central pathological event is a disturbance of protein folding of a normal cellular protein that is eventually accompanied by neuronal cell death and the death of the host. Prion protein (PrP) is a constituent of most normal mammalian cells and its presence is essential in the pathogenesis of TSE. However, the function of this normal cellular protein remains unclear. The prevention of PRNP gene expression in mammalian species has been undramatic, implying a functional redundancy. Yet PrP is conserved from mammals to fish. Recent studies of PrP in zebrafish have yielded novel findings showing that PrP has essential roles in early embryonic development. The amenability of zebrafish to global technologies has generated data indicating the existence of "anchorless" splice variants of PrP in the early embryo. This paper will discuss the possibility that the experimentalist's view of PrP functions might be clearer at a greater phylogenetic distance.

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