Variably protease-sensitive prionopathy in the UK: a retrospective review 1991–2008

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Abstract

Variably protease-sensitive prionopathy is a newly described human prion disease of unknown aetiology lying out with the hitherto recognized phenotypic spectrum of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. Two cases that conform to the variably protease-sensitive prionopathy phenotype have been identified prospectively in the UK since the first description of the condition in 2008 in the USA. To determine the incidence and phenotype of variably protease-sensitive prionopathy within a single well-defined cohort, we have conducted a retrospective review of patients referred to the National Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease Research & Surveillance Unit during the period 1991–2008. The approach taken was to screen frozen brain tissue by western blotting for the form of protease-resistant prion protein that characterizes variably protease-sensitive prionopathy, followed by neuropathological and clinical review of candidate cases. Cases diagnosed as sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease with atypical neuropathology were also reviewed. Four hundred and sixty-five cases were screened biochemically, yielding four candidate cases of variably protease-sensitive prionopathy. One was discounted on pathological and clinical grounds, and one was a known case of variably protease-sensitive prionopathy previously reported, leaving two new cases, which were confirmed biochemically and neuropathologically as variably protease-sensitive prionopathy. A third new case that lacked frozen tissue was recognized retrospectively on neuropathological grounds alone. This means that five cases of variably protease-sensitive prionopathy have been identified (prospectively and retrospectively) during the surveillance period 1991–2011 in the UK. Assuming ascertainment levels equivalent to that of other human prion diseases, these data indicate that variably protease-sensitive prionopathy is a rare phenotype within human prion diseases, which are themselves rare. Biochemical investigation indicates that the abnormal protease-resistant prion protein fragment that characterizes variably protease-sensitive prionopathy is detectable at low levels in some cases of sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and conversely, that the form of abnormal prion protein that characterizes sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease can be found in certain brain regions of cases of variably protease-sensitive prionopathy, indicating molecular overlaps between these two disorders.

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