Genetic human prion disease modelled in PrP transgenic Drosophila

16 Aug 2017

Inherited human prion diseases, such as fatal familial insomnia (FFI) and familial Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (fCJD), are associated with autosomal dominant mutations in the human prion protein gene $\textit{PRNP}$ and accumulation of PrP$^{Sc}$, an abnormal isomer of the normal host protein PrP$^C$, in the brain of affected individuals. PrP$^{Sc}$ is the principal component of the transmissible neurotoxic prion agent. It is important to identify molecular pathways and cellular processes that regulate prion formation and prion-induced neurotoxicity. This will allow identification of possible therapeutic interventions for individuals with, or at risk from, genetic human prion disease. Increasingly, $\textit{Drosophila}$ has been used to model human neurodegenerative disease. An important unanswered question is whether genetic prion disease with concomitant spontaneous prion formation can be modelled in $\textit{Drosophila}$. We have used pUAST/PhiC31-mediated site-directed mutagenesis to generate $\textit{Drosophila}$ transgenic for murine or hamster PrP (prion protein) that carry single-codon mutations associated with genetic human prion disease. Mouse or hamster PrP harbouring an FFI (D178N) or fCJD (E200K) mutation showed mild Proteinase K resistance when expressed in $\textit{Drosophila}$. Adult $\textit{Drosophila}$ transgenic for FFI or fCJD variants of mouse or hamster PrP displayed a spontaneous decline in locomotor ability that increased in severity as the flies aged. Significantly, this mutant PrPmediated neurotoxic fly phenotype was transferable to recipient $\textit{Drosophila}$ that expressed the wild-type form of the transgene. Collectively, our novel data are indicative of the spontaneous formation of a PrP-dependent neurotoxic phenotype in FFI- or CJD-PrP transgenic $\textit{Drosophila}$ and show that inherited human prion disease can be modelled in this invertebrate host.