Neurodegenerative diseases: expanding the prion concept

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2015 Jul 8;38:87-103. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-071714-033828. Epub 2015 Mar 30.


The prion paradigm has emerged as a unifying molecular principle for the pathogenesis of many age-related neurodegenerative diseases. This paradigm holds that a fundamental cause of specific disorders is the misfolding and seeded aggregation of certain proteins. The concept arose from the discovery that devastating brain diseases called spongiform encephalopathies are transmissible to new hosts by agents consisting solely of a misfolded protein, now known as the prion protein. Accordingly, "prion" was defined as a "proteinaceous infectious particle." As the concept has expanded to include other diseases, many of which are not infectious by any conventional definition, the designation of prions as infectious agents has become problematic. We propose to define prions as "proteinaceous nucleating particles" to highlight the molecular action of the agents, lessen unwarranted apprehension about the transmissibility of noninfectious proteopathies, and promote the wider acceptance of this revolutionary paradigm by the biomedical community.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Parkinson's disease; amyloid; cell-to-cell spreading; disease progression; prion; proteopathy; synuclein; tau; transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Prions / metabolism*


  • Prions