The PrP-like Doppel (Dpl) protein causes apoptotic death of cerebellar neurons in transgenic mice, a process prevented by expression of the wild type (wt) cellular prion protein, PrP(C). Internally deleted forms of PrP(C) resembling Dpl such as PrPDelta32-121 produce a similar PrP(C)-sensitive pro-apoptotic phenotype in transgenic mice. Here we demonstrate that these phenotypic attributes of wt Dpl, wt PrP(C), and PrPDelta132-121 can be accurately recapitulated by transfected mouse cerebellar granule cell cultures. This system was then explored by mutagenesis of the co-expressed prion proteins to reveal functional determinants. By this means, neuroprotective activity of wt PrP(C) was shown to be nullified by a deletion of the N-terminal charged region implicated in endocytosis and retrograde axonal transport (PrPDelta23-28), by deletion of all five octarepeats (PrPDelta51-90), or by glycine replacement of four octarepeat histidine residues required for selective binding of copper ions (Prnp"H/G"). In the case of Dpl, overlapping deletions defined a requirement for the gene interval encoding helices B and B' (DplDelta101-125). These data suggest contributions of copper binding and neuronal trafficking to wt PrP(C) function in vivo and place constraints upon current hypotheses to explain Dpl/PrP(C) antagonism by competitive ligand binding. Further implementation of this assay should provide a fuller understanding of the attributes and subcellular localizations required for activity of these enigmatic proteins.