Recent advances in the histo-molecular pathology of human prion disease

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Prion diseases are progressive neurodegenerative disorders affecting humans and other mammalian species. The term prion, originally put forward to propose the concept that a protein could be infectious, refers to PrP Sc , a misfolded isoform of the cellular prion protein (PrP C ) that represents the pathogenetic hallmark of these disorders. The discovery that other proteins characterized by misfolding and seeded aggregation can spread from cell to cell, similarly to PrP Sc , has increased interest in prion diseases. Among neurodegenerative disorders, however, prion diseases distinguish themselves for the broader phenotypic spectrum, the fastest disease progression and the existence of infectious forms that can be transmitted through the exposure to diseased tissues via ingestion, injection or transplantation. The main clinicopathological phenotypes of human prion disease include Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, by far the most common, fatal insomnia, variably protease-sensitive prionopathy, and Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker disease. However, clinicopathological manifestations extend even beyond those predicted by this classification. Because of their transmissibility, the phenotypic diversity of prion diseases can also be propagated into syngenic hosts as prion strains with distinct characteristics, such as incubation period, pattern of PrP Sc distribution and regional severity of histopathological changes in the brain. Increasing evidence indicates that different PrP Sc conformers, forming distinct ordered aggregates, encipher the phenotypic variants related to prion strains. In this review, we summarize the most recent advances concerning the histo-molecular pathology of human prion disease focusing on the phenotypic spectrum of the disease including co-pathologies, the characterization of prion strains by experimental transmission and their correlation with the physicochemical properties of PrP Sc aggregates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-300
Number of pages23
JournalBrain Pathology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2019


  • amyloidosis
  • Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease
  • fatal insomnia
  • Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker disease
  • human prions
  • neurodegenerative dementia
  • prion strains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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