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Mechanism of spreading of prion and polyglutamine aggregates and role of the cellular prion protein in Huntington’s disease

Abstract : The pathogenesis of most neurodegenerative diseases, including transmissible diseases like prion encephalopathies, inherited disorders like Huntington’s disease, and sporadic diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, appear to be directly linked to the formation of fibrillar protein aggregates. For many years, the concept of aggregate spreading and infectivity has been confined to prion diseases. However, recent evidence indicate that both extracellular (e.g. amyloid-β) and intracellular (α- synuclein, tau, huntingtin) amyloidogenic protein are able to move (and possibly replicate) within the brains of affected individuals, thereby contributing to the spread of pathology in a prion-like manner (Brundin et al., 2010; Jucker and Walker, 2011; Aguzzi and Rajendran, 2009). Recently another intriguing connection has been made between prions and other aggregation proteinopathies, as it was suggested that the cellular prion protein, PrPC, whose pathological counterpart is responsible for prion diseases, possibly mediates the toxicity of Aβ, the pathogenic protein in Alzheimer’s disease, and of other β- conformers independently of the propagation of infectious prions (reviewed in Biasini et al., 2012). However, despite the intense research,manyquestionsinprionandnon-prion neurodegenerative diseases are still open regarding both the mechanism of protein aggregate spreading and the mechanism of toxicity. In the first part of my thesis, I contributed to investigate the role of DCs (dendritic cells) in the spreading of prion infection to neuronal cells. I demonstrated that the transfer of PrPSc from DCs (loaded with prion infected brain homogenate) to primary neurons was triggered by direct cell–cell contact and resulted in transmission of infectivity to the co-cultured neurons. These data confirm the possible role of DCs in prion spreading from the periphery to the nervous system. I also provided a plausible transfer mechanism of PrPSc through tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) shown to connect DCs to primary neurons and excluded the involvement of PrPSc secretion in our system. In the second part of my thesis, I investigated the mechanisms of the spreading and toxicity of Htt aggregates and the possible role of PrPC in these events. I demonstrated that Htt aggregates transfer between neuronal cells and primary neurons and that cell-cell contact is required. I also showed the involvement of TNTs in the transfer and reported the aggregation of endogenous wild-type Htt in primary neurons, possibly following the transfer of Htt aggregates. Finally, the last part of my results provides evidences that PrPC is involved in the spreading of the toxicity mediated by mutant Htt in primary neuronal cultures.
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Maddalena Costanzo. Mechanism of spreading of prion and polyglutamine aggregates and role of the cellular prion protein in Huntington’s disease. Agricultural sciences. Université Paris Sud - Paris XI, 2012. English. ⟨NNT : 2012PA112186⟩. ⟨tel-00829104⟩

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