GABA-interneurons immunoreactive (IR) for the calcium-binding protein parvalbumin are lost during the early stages of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and diminution in their number may partially account for the neurological disturbances manifested in patients suffering from this condition. The disease is characterized by a transformation of the prion protein, PrP(c)-a host-coded sialoglycoprotein-to its protease-resistant and putatively pathological form, PrP(CJD). And since this conversion is likely to take place at the cell surface, we were curious to know whether the "perineuronal net"-a characteristic accumulation of extracellular matrix in intimate contact with the surface of parvalbumin-IR neurons-is implicated in the early disappearance of the mantled cells. Using various lectins and antibodies as markers for the perineuronal net in brains of 21 CJD victims, we observed that this meshwork of extracellular matrix molecules is lost before the embraced parvalbumin-IR neurons themselves disappear. Hence, an interaction of PrP(c) and/or PrP(CJD) with components of the extracellular matrix around this subpopulation of nerve cells precipitates a sequence of as yet unknown events which culminates in the replacement of perineuronal nets by deposits of insoluble PrP(CJD). This change in the environment of the GABA-interneurons IR for parvalbumin may ultimately provoke their death.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.