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J Neural Transm Suppl. 1997;50:191-210.

Cell death in prion disease.

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Institut für Neuropathologic, Universität Gottingen, Federal Republic of Germany.


Prion diseases are neurodegenerative transmissible diseases. The infectious agent, termed prion, is thought to consist of an altered host-encoded protein. The pathogenesis of these diseases which typically in a very short time lead to rampant nerve cell death and astrocytic gliosis is poorly understood. Investigations using the in situ endlabeling technique and electron microscopy in a scrapie model in the mouse (79A strain) show that nerve cell death is due to apoptosis. A cell culture model using a synthetic peptide of the prion protein (PrP106-126) shows that this peptide is toxic only to normal neurons whereas nerve cells derived from PrP knock-out (PrP0/0) mice are unaffected by this neurotoxic effect. In addition, microglia play a crucial part in this process by secreting reactive oxygen species. Experiments in animals will have to show whether these cell culture findings adequately reflect the in vivo pathogenesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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