Tetracyclines and prion infectivity

Infect Disord Drug Targets. 2009 Feb;9(1):23-30. doi: 10.2174/1871526510909010023.


In the last decade information has accumulated on the potential anti-prion activity of polycyclic compounds. Initially we showed that the antitumoral idodoxorubicin reduced the infectivity in experimental scrapie. On the basis of the chemical homology with anthracyclines, we rapidly moved to tetracyclines, compounds that are safer and widely used as antibiotics in clinical practice. The tetracyclines, essentially doxycycline and minocycline, were characterized as a therapeutical tool in transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) through the cell-free condition, in cellular and animal models and they are now being investigated clinically with this indication. Tetracyclines interact with aggregates obtained by synthetic PrP peptides or pathological PrP (PrPsc) extracted from TSE brains, and they destabilize the structure of amyloid fibrils, reducing their resistance to digestion by proteinase K. Tetracyclines also interact with peptide oligomeric structures and inhibit the protein misfolding associated with PrPsc formation. These activities have been accompanied by a reduction of infectivity, verified by doxycycline treatment in experimental scrapie, and some curative effects after either peripheral or intracerebral infection. The anti-amyloidogenic activity of tetracyclines was tested in other forms of peripheral and central amyloidosis, with interesting results. This article analyzes the development of tetracyclines as a therapeutic tool in TSE in the light of recent results obtained in our laboratories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cricetinae
  • Endopeptidase K / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Mice
  • PrPSc Proteins / metabolism
  • PrPSc Proteins / pathogenicity
  • Prions / chemistry
  • Prions / drug effects*
  • Prions / metabolism
  • Prions / pathogenicity*
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Scrapie / drug therapy
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Tetracyclines / chemistry
  • Tetracyclines / pharmacology*


  • PrPSc Proteins
  • Prions
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Tetracyclines
  • Endopeptidase K