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J Alzheimers Dis. 2016 Jul 6;54(1):3-29. doi: 10.3233/JAD-160361.

Protein Misfolding in Prion and Prion-Like Diseases: Reconsidering a Required Role for Protein Loss-of-Function.

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Centre for Prions & Protein Folding Disease, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Department of Medical Genetics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada.


Prion disease research has contributed much toward understanding other neurodegenerative diseases, including recent demonstrations that Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative diseases are prion-like. Prion-like diseases involve the spread of degeneration between individuals and/or among cells or tissues via template directed misfolding, wherein misfolded protein conformers propagate disease by causing normal proteins to misfold. Here we use the premise that AD, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington's disease, and other similar diseases are prion-like and ask: Can we apply knowledge gained from studies of these prion-like diseases to resolve debates about classical prion diseases? We focus on controversies about what role(s) protein loss-of-function might have in prion diseases because this has therapeutic implications, including for AD. We examine which loss-of-function events are recognizable in prion-like diseases by considering the normal functions of the proteins before their misfolding and aggregation. We then delineate scenarios wherein gain-of-function and/or loss-of-function would be necessary or sufficient for neurodegeneration. We consider roles of PrPC loss-of-function in prion diseases and in AD, and conclude that the conventional wisdom that prion diseases are 'toxic gain-of-function diseases' has limitations. While prion diseases certainly have required gain-of-function components, we propose that disease phenotypes are predominantly caused by deficits in the normal physiology of PrPC and its interaction partners as PrPC converts to PrPSc. In this model, gain-of-function serves mainly to spread disease, and loss-of-function directly mediates neuron dysfunction. We propose experiments and predictions to assess our conclusion. Further study on the normal physiological roles of these key proteins is warranted.


Alzheimer’s disease; Huntington’s disease; amyloid-β protein precursor; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; huntingtin protein; prion diseases; protein misfolding diseases; superoxide dismutase 1; tau protein; tauopathies

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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