Analysis of non-human primate models for evaluating prion disease therapeutic efficacy

PLoS Pathog. 2022 Aug 22;18(8):e1010728. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010728. eCollection 2022 Aug.


Prion disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by the conformational corruption of the prion protein (PrP), encoded by the prion protein gene (PRNP). While no disease-modifying therapy is currently available, genetic and pharmacological proofs of concept support development of therapies that lower PrP levels in the brain. In light of proposals for clinical testing of such drugs in presymptomatic individuals at risk for genetic prion disease, extensive nonclinical data are likely to be required, with extra attention paid to choice of animal models. Uniquely, the entire prion disease process can be faithfully modeled through transmission of human prions to non-human primates (NHPs), raising the question of whether NHP models should be used to assess therapeutic efficacy. Here we systematically aggregate data from N = 883 prion-inoculated animals spanning six decades of research studies. Using this dataset, we assess prion strain, route of administration, endpoint, and passage number to characterize the relationship of tested models to currently prevalent human subtypes of prion disease. We analyze the incubation times observed across diverse models and perform power calculations to assess the practicability of testing prion disease therapeutic efficacy in NHPs. We find that while some models may theoretically be able to support therapeutic efficacy studies, pilot studies would be required to confirm incubation time and attack rate before pivotal studies could be designed, cumulatively requiring several years. The models with the shortest and most tightly distributed incubation times are those with smaller brains and weaker homology to humans. Our findings indicate that it would be challenging to conduct efficacy studies in NHPs in a paradigm that honors the potential advantages of NHPs over other available models, on a timeframe that would not risk unduly delaying patient access to promising drug candidates.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*
  • Primates
  • Prion Diseases* / metabolism
  • Prion Proteins
  • Prions* / metabolism


  • Prion Proteins
  • Prions