Continuous quinacrine treatment results in the formation of drug-resistant prions

PLoS Pathog. 2009 Nov;5(11):e1000673. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000673. Epub 2009 Nov 26.


Quinacrine is a potent antiprion compound in cell culture models of prion disease but has failed to show efficacy in animal bioassays and human clinical trials. Previous studies demonstrated that quinacrine inefficiently penetrates the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which could contribute to its lack of efficacy in vivo. As quinacrine is known to be a substrate for P-glycoprotein multi-drug resistance (MDR) transporters, we circumvented its poor BBB permeability by utilizing MDR(0/0) mice that are deficient in mdr1a and mdr1b genes. Mice treated with 40 mg/kg/day of quinacrine accumulated up to 100 microM of quinacrine in their brains without acute toxicity. PrP(Sc) levels in the brains of prion-inoculated MDR(0/0) mice diminished upon the initiation of quinacrine treatment. However, this reduction was transient and PrP(Sc) levels recovered despite the continuous administration of quinacrine. Treatment with quinacrine did not prolong the survival times of prion-inoculated, wild-type or MDR(0/0) mice compared to untreated mice. A similar phenomenon was observed in cultured differentiated prion-infected neuroblastoma cells: PrP(Sc) levels initially decreased after quinacrine treatment then rapidly recovered after 3 d of continuous treatment. Biochemical characterization of PrP(Sc) that persisted in the brains of quinacrine-treated mice had a lower conformational stability and different immunoaffinities compared to that found in the brains of untreated controls. These physical properties were not maintained upon passage in MDR(0/0) mice. From these data, we propose that quinacrine eliminates a specific subset of PrP(Sc) conformers, resulting in the survival of drug-resistant prion conformations. Transient accumulation of this drug-resistant prion population provides a possible explanation for the lack of in vivo efficacy of quinacrine and other antiprion drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B / deficiency
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Drug Resistance*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • PrPSc Proteins / analysis
  • PrPSc Proteins / chemistry
  • Prion Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Prions / chemistry
  • Prions / drug effects*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Quinacrine / administration & dosage
  • Quinacrine / pharmacology
  • Quinacrine / therapeutic use
  • Survival Rate


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B
  • P-glycoprotein 2
  • PrPSc Proteins
  • Prions
  • multidrug resistance protein 3
  • Quinacrine