Incomplete glycosylation during prion infection unmasks a prion protein epitope that facilitates prion detection and strain discrimination

J Biol Chem. 2020 Jul 24;295(30):10420-10433. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.012796. Epub 2020 Jun 8.


The causative factors underlying conformational conversion of cellular prion protein (PrPC) into its infectious counterpart (PrPSc) during prion infection remain undetermined, in part because of a lack of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that can distinguish these conformational isoforms. Here we show that the anti-PrP mAb PRC7 recognizes an epitope that is shielded from detection when glycans are attached to Asn-196. We observed that whereas PrPC is predisposed to full glycosylation and is therefore refractory to PRC7 detection, prion infection leads to diminished PrPSc glycosylation at Asn-196, resulting in an unshielded PRC7 epitope that is amenable to mAb recognition upon renaturation. Detection of PRC7-reactive PrPSc in experimental and natural infections with various mouse-adapted scrapie strains and with prions causing deer and elk chronic wasting disease and transmissible mink encephalopathy uncovered that incomplete PrPSc glycosylation is a consistent feature of prion pathogenesis. We also show that interrogating the conformational properties of the PRC7 epitope affords a direct means of distinguishing different prion strains. Because the specificity of our approach for prion detection and strain discrimination relies on the extent to which N-linked glycosylation shields or unshields PrP epitopes from antibody recognition, it dispenses with the requirement for additional standard manipulations to distinguish PrPSc from PrPC, including evaluation of protease resistance. Our findings not only highlight an innovative and facile strategy for prion detection and strain differentiation, but are also consistent with a mechanism of prion replication in which structural instability of incompletely glycosylated PrP contributes to the conformational conversion of PrPC to PrPSc.

Keywords: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; N-linked glycosylation; PRC7; bovine spongiform encephalopathy; chronic wasting disease; monoclonal antibody; neurodegeneration; prion; prion disease; prion strains; prions; protein misfolding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived / chemistry*
  • Cell Line
  • Epitopes / chemistry*
  • Epitopes / metabolism
  • Glycosylation
  • PrPC Proteins / chemistry*
  • PrPC Proteins / metabolism
  • Rabbits


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Epitopes
  • PrPC Proteins