Aggregation of cellular prion protein is initiated by proximity-induced dimerization

J Neurochem. 2007 Aug;102(4):1195-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2007.04611.x.


Prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are infectious and fatal neurodegenerative disorders in humans and animals. Pathological features of TSEs include the conversion of cellular prion protein (PrP(C)) into an altered disease-associated conformation generally designated PrP(Sc), abnormal deposition of PrP(Sc) aggregates, and spongiform degeneration of the brain. The molecular steps leading to PrP(C) aggregation are unknown. Here, we have utilized an inducible oligomerization strategy to test if, in the absence of any infectious prion particles, the encounter between PrP(C) molecules may trigger its aggregation in neuronal cells. A chimeric PrP(C) composed of one (Fv1) or two (Fv2) modified FK506-binding protein (Fv) fused with PrP(C) were created, and transfected in N2a cells. Similar to PrP(C), Fv1-PrP and Fv2-PrP were glycosylated, displayed normal localization, and anti-apoptotic function. When cells were treated with the dimeric Fv ligand AP20187, to induce dimerization (Fv1) or oligomerization (Fv2) of PrP(C), both dimerization and oligomerization of PrP(C) resulted in the de novo production, release and deposition of extracellular PrP aggregates. Aggregates were insoluble in non-ionic detergents and partially resistant to proteinase K. These findings demonstrate that homologous interactions between PrP(C) molecules may constitute a minimal and sufficient molecular event leading to PrP(C) aggregation and extracellular deposition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites / drug effects
  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dimerization
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Endopeptidase K / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Glioma / pathology
  • Glioma / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission / methods
  • Mutation / physiology
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • Neuroblastoma / ultrastructure
  • Prions / chemistry*
  • Prions / drug effects
  • Prions / metabolism
  • Protein Binding / physiology
  • Tacrolimus / analogs & derivatives
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacology
  • Transfection / methods


  • AP20187
  • Ligands
  • Prions
  • Endopeptidase K
  • Tacrolimus