NMDA Receptor and L-Type Calcium Channel Modulate Prion Formation


Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology


1 April, 2020


Zattoni M, Garrovo C, Xerxa E, Spigolon G, Fisone G, Kristensson K, Legname G


Transmissible neurodegenerative prion diseases are characterized by the conversion of the cellular prion protein (PrPC) to misfolded isoforms denoted as prions or PrPSc. Although the conversion can occur in the test tube containing recombinant prion protein or cell lysates, efficient prion formation depends on the integrity of intact cell functions. Since neurons are main targets for prion replication, we asked whether their most specialized function, i.e. synaptic plasticity, could be a factor by which PrPSc formation can be modulated.Immortalized gonadotropin-releasing hormone cells infected with the Rocky Mountain Laboratory prion strain were treated with L-type calcium channels (LTCCs) and NMDA receptors (NMDARs) stimulators or inhibitors. Western blotting was used to monitor the effects on PrPSc formation in relation to ERK signalling.Infected cells showed enhanced levels of phosphorylated ERK (pERK) compared with uninfected cells. Exposure of infected cells to the LTCC agonist Bay K8644 enhanced pERK and PrPSc levels. Although treatment with an LTCC blocker (nimodipine) or an NMDAR competitive antagonist (D-AP5) had no effects, their combination reduced both pERK and PrPSc levels. Treatment with the non-competitive NMDAR channel blocker MK-801 markedly reduced pERK and PrPSc levels.Our study shows that changes in LTCCs and NMDARs activities can modulate PrPSc formation through ERK signalling. During synaptic plasticity, while ERK signalling promotes long-term potentiation accompanied by expansion of post-synaptic lipid rafts, other NMDA receptor-depending signalling pathways, p38-JNK, have opposing effects. Our findings indicate that contrasting intracellular signals of synaptic plasticity can influence time-dependent prion conversion.