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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Oct 13;95(21):12117-22.

Inhibition of protease-resistant prion protein formation by porphyrins and phthalocyanines.

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Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Hamilton, MT 59840, USA.


A central aspect of pathogenesis in the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases is the conversion of normal protease-sensitive prion protein (PrP-sen) to the abnormal protease-resistant form, PrP-res. Here we identify porphyrins and phthalocyanines as inhibitors of PrP-res accumulation. The most potent of these tetrapyrroles had IC50 values of 0.5-1 microM in scrapie-infected mouse neuroblastoma (ScNB) cell cultures. Inhibition was observed without effects on protein biosynthesis in general or PrP-sen biosynthesis in particular. Tetrapyrroles also inhibited PrP-res formation in a cell-free reaction composed predominantly of hamster PrP-res and PrP-sen. Inhibitors were found among phthalocyanines, deuteroporphyrins IX, and meso-substituted porphines; examples included compounds containing anionic, neutral protic, and cationic peripheral substituents and various metals. We conclude that certain tetrapyrroles specifically inhibit the conversion of PrP-sen to PrP-res without apparent cytotoxic effects. The inhibition observed in the cell-free conversion reaction suggests that the mechanism involved direct interactions of the tetrapyrrole with PrP-res and/or PrP-sen. These findings introduce a new class of inhibitors of PrP-res formation that represents a potential source of therapeutic agents for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

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