Prion protein in Caenorhabditis elegans: Distinct models of anti-BAX and neuropathology

Kyung Won Park, Liming Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The infectious agent of prion diseases is believed to be nucleic acid-free particles composed of misfolded conformational isomers of a host protein known as prion protein (PrP). Although this "protein-only" concept is generally accepted, decades of extensive research have not been able to elucidate the mechanisms by which PrP misfolding leads to neurodegeneration and infectivity. The challenges in studying prion diseases relate in part to the limitations of mammalian prion models, which include the long incubation period post-infection until symptoms develop, the high expense of maintaining mammals for extended periods, as well as safety issues. In order to develop prion models incorporating a genetically tractable simple system with a well-defined neuronal system, we generated transgenic C. elegans expressing the mouse PrP behind the pan-neuronal ric-19 promoter (P ric-19). We show here that high expression of P ric-19::PrP in C. elegans can result in altered morphology, defective mobility and shortened lifespan. Low expression of P ric-19::PrP, however, does not cause any detectable harm. Using the dopamine neuron specific promoter P dat-1, we also show that expression of the murine BAX, a pro-apoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family, causes dopamine neuron destruction in the nematode. However, co-expression of PrP inhibits BAX-mediated dopamine neuron degeneration, demonstrating for the first time that PrP has anti-BAX activity in living animals. Thus, these distinct PrP-transgenic C. elegans lines recapitulate a number of functional and neuropathological features of mammalian prion models and provide an opportunity for facile identification of genetic and environmental contributors to prion-associated pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-38
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • BAX
  • C. elegans
  • Cytoprotection
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Prion
  • Protein misfolding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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