Genetic counseling for prion disease: Updates and best practices

Genet Med. 2022 Oct;24(10):1993-2003. doi: 10.1016/j.gim.2022.06.003. Epub 2022 Jul 12.


Prion disease is a rare, fatal, and often rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disease. Ten to fifteen percent of cases are caused by autosomal dominant gain-of-function variants in the prion protein gene, PRNP. Rarity and phenotypic variability complicate diagnosis, often obscuring family history and leaving families unprepared for the genetic implications of an index case. Several recent developments inspire this update in best practices for prion disease genetic counseling. A new prion-detection assay has transformed symptomatic diagnosis. Meanwhile, penetrance, age of onset, and duration of illness have been systematically characterized across PRNP variants in a global cohort. Clinically, the traditional genotype-phenotype correlation has weakened over time, and the term genetic prion disease may now better serve providers than the historical subtypes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, fatal familial insomnia, and Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease. Finally, in the age of genetically targeted therapies, clinical trials for prion disease are being envisaged, and healthy at-risk individuals may be best positioned to benefit. Such individuals need to be able to access clinical services for genetic counseling and testing. Thus, this update on the genetics of prion disease and best practices for genetic counseling for this disease aims to provide the information needed to expand genetic counseling services.

Keywords: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD); Fatal familial insomnia (FFI); Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease (GSS); PRNP; Prion disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Counseling
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*
  • Prion Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Prion Diseases* / genetics
  • Prion Proteins / genetics
  • Prions* / genetics


  • Prion Proteins
  • Prions