In transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, the cellular prion protein (PrP(C)) undergoes a conformational change from a prevailing alpha-helical structure to a beta-sheet-rich, protease-resistant isoform, termed PrP(Sc). PrP(C) has two characteristics: a high affinity for Cu(2+) and a strong pH-dependent conformation. Lines of evidence indicate that PrP(Sc) conformation is dependent on copper and that acidic conditions facilitate the conversion of PrP(C) --> PrP(Sc). In each species, PrP(Sc) exists in multiple conformations, which are associated with different prion strains. In sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), different biochemical types of PrP(Sc) have been identified according to the size of the protease-resistant fragments, patterns of glycosylation, and the metal-ion occupancy. Based on the site of cleavage produced by proteinase K, we investigated the conformational stability of PrP(Sc) under acidic, neutral, and basic conditions in 42 sCJD subjects. Our study shows that only one type of sCJD PrP(Sc), associated with the classical form, shows a pH-dependent conformation, whereas two other biochemical PrP(Sc) types, detected in distinct sCJD phenotypes, are unaffected by pH variations. This novel approach demonstrates the presence of three types of PrP(Sc) in sCJD.
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