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Prions as Epigenetic Regulators of Phenotype in Fungi

Epigenetic Regulation and Epigenomics

  1. Wesley R. Naeimi,
  2. Mick F. Tuite

Published Online: 15 MAY 2012

DOI: 10.1002/3527600906.mcb.201100029

Reviews in Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine

Reviews in Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine

How to Cite

Naeimi, W. R. and Tuite, M. F. 2012. Prions as Epigenetic Regulators of Phenotype in Fungi. Reviews in Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine. .

Author Information

  1. University of Kent, Kent Fungal Group, School of Biosciences, Canterbury, Kent, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 MAY 2012


Prions were originally identified as novel protein-only, disease-causing agents associated with brain degenerative diseases termed transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Prions were subsequently discovered in fungi, where they influence a range of cellular phenotypes without any resulting detriment to the host. Prions can, therefore, act as epigenetic elements that transmit “genetic” information to another cell, resulting in an inherited change in phenotype without an underlying change in genome sequence. The continued propagation of the prion state is achieved via a process of conformational change and conversion of the prion protein. Several prions have been identified in fungi that are capable of modulating processes ranging from global gene expression to cell death, and a prion-based mechanism has also been implicated in short-term memory control in higher organisms. The ability of a prion protein to stably encode and propagate information relies on specific physical characteristics of the prion protein, as well as an intimate interaction with proteins of the molecular chaperone network. Thus, prions represent a unique class of epigenetic regulator of phenotype.


  • Amyloid;
  • Epigenetic;
  • Mendelian inheritance;
  • Molecular chaperone;
  • Non-Mendelian inheritance;
  • Protein conformation;
  • Prion;
  • Prion propagation;
  • Propagon;
  • Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies