The project aims at identifying small-molecule compounds reducing or abolishing expression of prion protein (PrP) at the cell surface through a high-throughput screening (HTS) program. Prion diseases are transmisible neurodegenerative diseases caused by misfolding of PrP. There is no cure for these rare, fatal and, from a therapeutic standpoint, neglected diseases. PrP is essential for prion replication but dispensable for the host, thus constituting an ideal target for therapeutic intervention. Depleting PrP from th cell surface is sufficient to abrogate prion replication. Therefore, in collaboration with Dr. Weissmann, we developed an assay to screen for compounds able to reduce or abolish PrP expression at the cell surface. The primary assay is currently in a 384-well format and fulfills HTS readiness criteria as assessed by statistical parameters and successful preliminary screening of the US Drug Collection. We now propose to transfer the assay to the Molecular Libraries Production Centers Network (MLPCN), miniaturize and optimize the assay for the 1536- well format and screen the Molecular Libraries Small Molecule Repository (MLSMR). We will then implement secondary assays to remove false positive hits (toxicity assay), confirm suppression of cell surface PrP on different neuronal cells (orthogonal assays) and prioritize hits according to their capacity to prevent and cure prion infection in cell culture. Tertiary assays wil consist in determining the specificity of the compound for PrP versus other cell surface proteins and determining its mode of action (PrP synthesis, degradation or trafficking to the plasma membrane). Medicinal chemistry will be conducted by Dr. William Roush to enhance potency and specificity of selected compounds. These studies are directly relevant to the NIH program announcement PAR-09-129 (""""""""Solicitation of Assays for High Throughput Screening (HTS) in the Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network (MLPCN). Assay miniaturization and screening will be performed at the MLPCN laboratory of Scripps Florida led by Peter Hodder. The outcome of the project will be not only compounds for therapeutical development but also a collection of molecular probes to study PrP biosynthetic and cellular trafficking pathways. Follow-up studies, which are outside the scope of the proposal, will determine primary molecular targets of selected compounds, study the role of these targets in PrP metabolism, continue SAR and test the best compound(s) in mouse prion infection models in order to generate a candidate for pre-clinical development. Given that PrP mediates, at least in part, A? oligomer-induced neurotoxicity, our approach may impact not only prion diseases, but also Alzheimer's disease.

Public Health Relevance

Cell surface prion protein is essential for the replication of prions, the agents that cause deadly neurodegenerative diseases, and mediates the neuronal toxicity of amyloid ? oligomers in Alzheimer's disease, but is dispensable for the host. We propose to implement a novel high-throughput screening approach to identify compounds reducing prion protein at the cell surface, select the most active compounds and determine their mode of action. These compounds will constitute tools to understand the biology of the prion protein as well as candidates for development of a drug to cure prion diseases and possibly halt neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease. !

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Small Research Grants (R03)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BST-F (50))
Program Officer
Singh, Hari
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Scripps Florida
United States
Zip Code