In addition to neuronal vacuolation and astrocytic hypertrophy, dendritic atrophy is a prominent feature of prion disease. Because increased Notch-1 expression and cleavage releasing its intracellular domain (NICD) inhibit both dendrite growth and maturation, we measured their levels in brains from mice inoculated with Rocky Mountain Laboratory (RML) prions. The level of NICD was elevated in the neocortex, whereas the level of beta-catenin, which stimulates dendritic growth, was unchanged. During the incubation period, levels of the disease-causing prion protein isoform, PrPSc, and NICD increased concomitantly in the neocortex. Additionally, increased levels of Notch-1 mRNA and translocation of NICD to the nucleus correlated well with regressive dendritic changes. In scrapie-infected neuroblastoma (ScN2a) cells, the level of NICD was elevated compared with uninfected control (N2a) cells. Long neurofilament protein-containing processes extended from the surface of N2a cells, whereas ScN2a cells had substantially shorter processes. Transfection of ScN2a cells with a Notch-1 small interfering RNA decreased Notch-1 mRNA levels, diminished NICD concentrations, and rescued the long process phenotype. These results suggest that PrPSc in neurons and in ScN2a cells activates Notch-1 cleavage, resulting in atrophy of dendrites in the CNS and shrinkage of processes on the surface of cultured cells. Whether diminishing Notch-1 activation in vivo can prevent or even reverse neurodegeneration in prion disease remains to be established.