Prion protein reduces both oxidative and non-oxidative copper toxicity


Address correspondence and reprint requests: Prof David R. Brown, PhD, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath, BA2 7AY, United Kingdom. E-mail:


The prion protein is a membrane tethered glycoprotein that binds copper. Conversion to an abnormal isoform is associated with neurodegenerative diseases known as prion diseases. Expression of the prion protein has been suggested to prevent cell death caused by oxidative stress. Using cell based models we investigated the potential of the prion protein to protect against copper toxicity. Although prion protein expression effectively protected neurones from copper toxicity, this protection was not necessarily associated with reduction in oxidative damage. We also showed that glycine and the prion protein could both protect neuronal cells from oxidative stress. Only the prion protein could protect these cells from the toxicity of copper. In contrast glycine increased copper toxicity without any apparent oxidative stress or lipid peroxidation. Mutational analysis showed that protection by the prion protein was dependent upon the copper binding octameric repeat region. Our findings demonstrate that copper toxicity can be independent of measured oxidative stress and that prion protein expression primarily protects against copper toxicity independently of the mechanism of cell death.