Therapeutic approaches to prion diseases

Giacomina Rossi, Mario Salmona, Gianluigi Forloni, Orso Bugiani, Fabrizio Tagliavini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prion diseases are unique in that they comprise sporadic, genetic, and iatrogenically or environmentally acquired forms. When disease is acquired by peripheral route, neuroinvasion occurs via at least two different neural pathways (vague and splanchnic nerves) and is usually preceded by prion propagation in secondary lymphoid organs. Conversely, in the other etiologic forms, PrPSc formation occurs within, and is apparently limited to, the CNS. Longitudinal studies on experimental scrapie indicate that substantial neuropathologic changes (ie, glial activation and nerve cell degeneration) already are present before the onset of symptoms and are topographically related to PrPSc deposits. Accordingly, any effective intervention should start during the preclinical stage of disease, and be aimed at preventing neuroinvasion or PrPSc propagation in the CNS. Unfortunately, no tests are available currently to detect presymptomatic individuals, except for carriers of pathogenic mutations of the PRNP gene. Inhibition of PrPSc formation can be achieved through (1) abrogation of PrPC synthesis or prevention of its transport to the cell surface; (2) stabilization of the PrPC structure to make its conformational change unfavorable; (3) sequestration of PrPSc; (4) reversion of PrPSc to a protease-sensitive form; or (5) interference with the interaction between PrPC, PrPSc, and other macromolecules that feature in the conversion process. The compounds that have some effectiveness in in vitro, cell culture, or animal models of prion disease seem to operate through one of these mechanisms (see Table 1); however, even the most effective drugs only work when administered at the time of infection or very short thereafter, and these conditions are incurable at present. The heterogeneity and complexity of the etiopathogenesis of prion diseases suggest that various strategies and a combination of several compounds with different modes of actions are likely necessary for prevention and treatment. Major efforts should be focused on the development of preclinical diagnostic tests in conjunction with immunization strategies for diseases acquired by peripheral route and identification of more effective compounds for the other etiological forms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-208
Number of pages22
JournalClinics in Laboratory Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Therapeutic approaches to prion diseases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this