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Prion diseases are heterogeneous in clinical presentation, suggesting that different prion diseases have distinct pathophysiological changes. To understand the pathophysiology specific to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), in vitro electrophysiological studies were performed in a mouse model in which human-derived vCJD prions were transmitted to transgenic mice expressing human instead of murine prion protein. Paired-pulse stimulation of the Schaffer collaterals evoked hypersynchronous bursting in the hippocampus of vCJD-inoculated mice; comparable bursts were never observed in control or Prnp knockout mice, or in mice inoculated with a strain of prion associated with classical CJD. Furthermore, NMDA receptor-mediated excitation was increased in vCJD-inoculated mice. Using pharmacological experiments and computer simulations, we demonstrate that the increase in NMDA receptor-mediated excitation is necessary and sufficient to explain the distinctive bursting pattern in vCJD. These pathophysiological changes appear to result from a prion strain-specific gain-of-function and may explain some of the distinguishing clinical features of vCJD.

Original publication




Journal article


Neurobiol Dis

Publication Date





96 - 104


Animals, Computer Simulation, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome, Disease Models, Animal, Hippocampus, Humans, Mice, Mice, Knockout, Mice, Transgenic, Prion Proteins, Prions, Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate, Synaptic Potentials