Towards an improved early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases: The emerging role of in vitro conversion assays for protein amyloids

Niccolò Candelise, Simone Baiardi, Alessia Franceschini, Marcello Rossi, Piero Parchi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Tissue accumulation of abnormal aggregates of amyloidogenic proteins such as prion protein, α-synuclein, and tau represents the hallmark of most common neurodegenerative disorders and precedes the onset of symptoms by years. As a consequence, the sensitive and specific detection of abnormal forms of these proteins in patients' accessible tissues or fluids as biomarkers may have a significant impact on the clinical diagnosis of these disorders. By exploiting seeded polymerization propagation mechanisms to obtain cell-free reactions that allow highly amplified detection of these amyloid proteins, novel emerging in vitro techniques, such as the real-time quaking-induced conversion assay (RT-QuIC) have paved the way towards this important goal. Given its high accuracy in identifying misfolded forms of prion protein from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) CSF, RT-QuIC has already been included in the diagnostic criteria for the clinical diagnosis of sporadic CJD, the most common human prion disease. By showing that this assay may also accurately discriminate between Lewy body disorders and other forms of parkinsonisms or dementias, more recent studies strongly suggested that CSF RT-QuIC can also be successfully applied to synucleinopathies. Finally, preliminary encouraging data also suggested that CSF RT-QuIC might also work for tau protein, and accurately distinguish between 3R- and 4R tauopathies, including Pick's disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, and corticobasal degeneration. Here we will review the state of the art of cell-free aggregation assays, their current diagnostic value and putative limitations, and the future perspectives for their expanded use in clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117
JournalActa neuropathologica communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 25 2020


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Biomarker
  • Diagnosis
  • Lewy bodies
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Prion disease
  • Prion protein
  • RT-QuIC
  • Tau
  • α-Synuclein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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