Biology and genetics of prions causing neurodegeneration.
- Author(s): Prusiner, Stanley B
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4010318/
Prions are proteins that acquire alternative conformations that become self-propagating. Transformation of proteins into prions is generally accompanied by an increase in β-sheet structure and a propensity to aggregate into oligomers. Some prions are beneficial and perform cellular functions, whereas others cause neurodegeneration. In mammals, more than a dozen proteins that become prions have been identified, and a similar number has been found in fungi. In both mammals and fungi, variations in the prion conformation encipher the biological properties of distinct prion strains. Increasing evidence argues that prions cause many neurodegenerative diseases (NDs), including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, and Lou Gehrig's diseases, as well as the tauopathies. The majority of NDs are sporadic, and 10% to 20% are inherited. The late onset of heritable NDs, like their sporadic counterparts, may reflect the stochastic nature of prion formation; the pathogenesis of such illnesses seems to require prion accumulation to exceed some critical threshold before neurological dysfunction manifests.