Mutant prion proteins increase calcium permeability of AMPA receptors, exacerbating excitotoxicity

Elsa Ghirardini, Elena Restelli, Raffaella Morini, Ilaria Bertani, Davide Ortolan, Fabio Perrucci, Davide Pozzi, Michela Matteoli, Roberto Chiesa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prion protein (PrP) mutations are linked to genetic prion diseases, a class of phenotypically heterogeneous neurodegenerative disorders with invariably fatal outcome. How mutant PrP triggers neurodegeneration is not known. Synaptic dysfunction precedes neuronal loss but it is not clear whether, and through which mechanisms, disruption of synaptic activity ultimately leads to neuronal death. Here we show that mutant PrP impairs the secretory trafficking of AMPA receptors (AMPARs). Specifically, intracellular retention of the GluA2 subunit results in synaptic exposure of GluA2-lacking, calcium-permeable AMPARs, leading to increased calcium permeability and enhanced sensitivity to excitotoxic cell death. Mutant PrPs linked to different genetic prion diseases affect AMPAR trafficking and function in different ways. Our findings identify AMPARs as pathogenic targets in genetic prion diseases, and support the involvement of excitotoxicity in neurodegeneration. They also suggest a mechanistic explanation for how different mutant PrPs may cause distinct disease phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1008654
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Animals
  • Calcium/metabolism
  • Cell Death/physiology
  • Mice
  • Neurons/metabolism
  • Permeability
  • PrPSc Proteins/metabolism
  • Protein Transport/physiology
  • Receptors, AMPA/metabolism
  • Synapses/metabolism


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