Activation of the unfolded protein response and granulovacuolar degeneration are not common features of human prion pathology

Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2016 Oct 28;4(1):113. doi: 10.1186/s40478-016-0383-7.


Human prion diseases are fatal neurodegenerative disorders with a genetic, sporadic or infectiously acquired aetiology. Neuropathologically, human prion diseases are characterized by deposition of misfolded prion protein and neuronal loss. In post-mortem brain tissue from patients with other neurodegenerative diseases characterized by protein misfolding, including Alzheimer's disease (AD) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration with tau pathology (FTLD-tau), increased activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) has been observed. The UPR is a cellular stress response that copes with the presence of misfolded proteins. Recent studies have indicated that UPR activation is also involved in experimental models of prion disease and have suggested intervention in the UPR as a therapeutic strategy. On the other hand, it was previously shown that the active form of the UPR stress sensor dsRNA-activated protein kinase-like ER kinase (PERK) is not increased in post-mortem brain tissue samples from human prion disease cases. In the present study, we assessed the active form of another UPR stress sensor, inositol-requiring enzyme 1α (IRE1α), in human post-mortem frontal cortex of a large cohort of sporadic, inherited and acquired prion disease patients (n = 47) and non-neurological controls. Immunoreactivity for phosphorylated IRE1α was not increased in prion disease cases compared with non-neurological controls. In addition, immunoreactivity for phosphorylated PERK was unaltered in human prion disease cases included in the current cohort. Moreover, no difference in the extent of granulovacuolar degeneration, a pathological feature associated with the presence of UPR activation markers, was detected. Our data indicate that, in contrast to AD and primary tauopathies, activation of the UPR is not a common feature of human prion pathology.

Keywords: Granulovacuolar degeneration; Inositol-requiring enzyme 1α; Prion disease; Tau; Unfolded protein response; dsRNA-activated protein kinase-like ER kinase.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Endoribonucleases / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / metabolism*
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / metabolism
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / pathology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Prion Diseases / complications
  • Prion Diseases / metabolism*
  • Prion Diseases / pathology*
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Unfolded Protein Response*
  • eIF-2 Kinase / metabolism
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • MAPT protein, human
  • tau Proteins
  • EIF2AK3 protein, human
  • ERN1 protein, human
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • eIF-2 Kinase
  • Endoribonucleases