Staff member


José Antonio Del Río Fernández

Group Leader
Molecular and Cellular Neurobiotechnology
jadelrio@ibecbarcelona.eu
+34 934 020 296
Staff member publications

Urrea, L., Segura-Feliu, M., Masuda-Suzukake, M., Hervera, A., Pedraz, L., Aznar, J. M. G., Vila, M., Samitier, J., Torrents, E., Ferrer, I., Gavín, R., Hagesawa, M., Del Río, J. A., (2017). Involvement of cellular prion protein in Molecular Neurobiology online, 1-14

The cellular prion protein, encoded by the gene Prnp, has been reported to be a receptor of

Keywords: Amyloid spreading, Microfluidic devices, Prnp, Synuclein


Matamoros-Angles, A., Gayosso, L. M., Richaud-Patin, Y., Di Domenico, A., Vergara, C., Hervera, A., Sousa, A., Fernández-Borges, N., Consiglio, A., Gavín, R., López de Maturana, R., Ferrer, I., López de Munain, A., Raya, A., Castilla, J., Sánchez-Pernaute, R., Del Río, J. A., (2017). iPS cell cultures from a Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker patient with the Y218N PRNP mutation recapitulate tau pathology Molecular Neurobiology online

Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker (GSS) syndrome is a fatal autosomal dominant neurodegenerative prionopathy clinically characterized by ataxia, spastic paraparesis, extrapyramidal signs and dementia. In some GSS familiar cases carrying point mutations in the PRNP gene, patients also showed comorbid tauopathy leading to mixed pathologies. In this study we developed an induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell model derived from fibroblasts of a GSS patient harboring the Y218N PRNP mutation, as well as an age-matched healthy control. This particular PRNP mutation is unique with very few described cases. One of the cases presented neurofibrillary degeneration with relevant Tau hyperphosphorylation. Y218N iPS-derived cultures showed relevant astrogliosis, increased phospho-Tau, altered microtubule-associated transport and cell death. However, they failed to generate proteinase K-resistant prion. In this study we set out to test, for the first time, whether iPS cell-derived neurons could be used to investigate the appearance of disease-related phenotypes (i.e, tauopathy) identified in the GSS patient.

Keywords: Cellular prion protein, Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker, Induced pluripotent stem cells, Tau


Vilches, S., Vergara, C., Nicolás, O., Mata, A., Del Río, J. A., Gavín, R., (2016). Domain-specific activation of death-associated intracellular signalling cascades by the cellular prion protein in neuroblastoma cells Molecular Neurobiology 53, (7), 4438–4448

The biological functions of the cellular prion protein remain poorly understood. In fact, numerous studies have aimed to determine specific functions for the different protein domains. Studies of cellular prion protein (PrPC) domains through in vivo expression of molecules carrying internal deletions in a mouse Prnp null background have provided helpful data on the implication of the protein in signalling cascades in affected neurons. Nevertheless, understanding of the mechanisms underlying the neurotoxicity induced by these PrPC deleted forms is far from complete. To better define the neurotoxic or neuroprotective potential of PrPC N-terminal domains, and to overcome the heterogeneity of results due to the lack of a standardized model, we used neuroblastoma cells to analyse the effects of overexpressing PrPC deleted forms. Results indicate that PrPC N-terminal deleted forms were properly processed through the secretory pathway. However, PrP

Keywords: Cellular prion protein, Neurotoxicity, Truncated prion protein


Tomas-Roig, J., Piscitelli, F., Gil, V., del Río, J. A., Moore, T. P., Agbemenyah, H., Salinas-Riester, G., Pommerenke, C., Lorenzen, S., Beißbarth, T., Hoyer-Fender, S., Di Marzo, V., Havemann-Reinecke, U., (2016). Social defeat leads to changes in the endocannabinoid system: An overexpression of calreticulin and motor impairment in mice Behavioural Brain Research 303, 34-43

Prolonged and sustained stimulation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis have adverse effects on numerous brain regions, including the cerebellum. Motor coordination and motor learning are essential for animal and require the regulation of cerebellar neurons. The G-protein-coupled cannabinoid CB1 receptor coordinates synaptic transmission throughout the CNS and is of highest abundance in the cerebellum. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to investigate the long-lasting effects of chronic psychosocial stress on motor coordination and motor learning, CB1 receptor expression, endogenous cannabinoid ligands and gene expression in the cerebellum. After chronic psychosocial stress, motor coordination and motor learning were impaired as indicated the righting reflex and the rota-rod. The amount of the endocannabinoid 2-AG increased while CB1 mRNA and protein expression were downregulated after chronic stress. Transcriptome analysis revealed 319 genes differentially expressed by chronic psychosocial stress in the cerebellum; mainly involved in synaptic transmission, transmission of nerve impulse, and cell-cell signaling. Calreticulin was validated as a stress candidate gene. The present study provides evidence that chronic stress activates calreticulin and might be one of the pathological mechanisms underlying the motor coordination and motor learning dysfunctions seen in social defeat mice.

Keywords: Psychosocial stress, Cerebellum, Calreticulin, Endocannabinoid system, Behavior, RNA seq.


del Río, J. A., Gavín, R., (2016). Functions of the cellular prion protein, the end of Moore's law, and Ockham's razor theory Prion 10, (1), 25-40

Since its discovery the cellular prion protein (encoded by the Prnp gene) has been associated with a large number of functions. The proposed functions rank from basic cellular processes such as cell cycle and survival to neural functions such as behavior and neuroprotection, following a pattern similar to that of Moore's law for electronics. In addition, particular interest is increasing in the participation of Prnp in neurodegeneration. However, in recent years a redefinition of these functions has begun, since examples of previously attributed functions were increasingly re-associated with other proteins. Most of these functions are linked to so-called “Prnp-flanking genes” that are close to the genomic locus of Prnp and which are present in the genome of some Prnp mouse models. In addition, their role in neuroprotection against convulsive insults has been confirmed in recent studies. Lastly, in recent years a large number of models indicating the participation of different domains of the protein in apoptosis have been uncovered. However, after more than 10 years of molecular dissection our view is that the simplest mechanistic model in PrPC-mediated cell death should be considered, as Ockham's razor theory suggested.

Keywords: Neurodegeneration, Prion, PrP


Requena, J. R., Kristensson, K., Korth, C., Zurzolo, C., Simmons, M., Aguilar-Calvo, P., Aguzzi, A., Andreoletti, O., Benestad, S. L., Böhm, R., Brown, K., Calgua, B., del Río, J. A., Espinosa, J. C., Girones, R., Godsave, S., Hoelzle, L. E., Knittler, M. R., Kuhn, F., Legname, G., Laeven, P., Mabbott, N., Mitrova, E., Müller-Schiffmann, A., Nuvolone, M., Peters, P. J., Raeber, A., Roth, K., Schmitz, M., Schroeder, B., Sonati, T., Stitz, L., Taraboulos, A., Torres, J. M., Yan, Z. X., Zerr, I., (2016). The Priority position paper: Protecting Europe's food chain from prions Prion 10, (3), 165-181

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) created a global European crisis in the 1980s and 90s, with very serious health and economic implications. Classical BSE now appears to be under control, to a great extent as a result of a global research effort that identified the sources of prions in meat and bone meal (MBM) and developed new animal-testing tools that guided policy. Priority (www.prionpriority.eu) was a European Union (EU) Framework Program 7 (FP7)-funded project through which 21 European research institutions and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) joined efforts between 2009 and 2014, to conduct coordinated basic and applied research on prions and prion diseases. At the end of the project, the Priority consortium drafted a position paper (www.prionpriority.eu/Priority position paper) with its main conclusions. In the present opinion paper, we summarize these conclusions. With respect to the issue of re-introducing ruminant protein into the feed-chain, our opinion is that sustaining an absolute ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants is essential. In particular, the spread and impact of non-classical forms of scrapie and BSE in ruminants is not fully understood and the risks cannot be estimated. Atypical prion agents will probably continue to represent the dominant form of prion diseases in the near future in Europe. Atypical L-type BSE has clear zoonotic potential, as demonstrated in experimental models. Similarly, there are now data indicating that the atypical scrapie agent can cross various species barriers. More epidemiological data from large cohorts are necessary to reach any conclusion on the impact of its transmissibility on public health. Re-evaluations of safety precautions may become necessary depending on the outcome of these studies. Intensified searching for molecular determinants of the species barrier is recommended, since this barrier is key for important policy areas and risk assessment. Understanding the structural basis for strains and the basis for adaptation of a strain to a new host will require continued fundamental research, also needed to understand mechanisms of prion transmission, replication and how they cause nervous system dysfunction and death. Early detection of prion infection, ideally at a preclinical stage, also remains crucial for development of effective treatment strategies.

Keywords: Atypical BSE, Atypical scrapie, BSE, CJD, Prion, Scrapie


Ferrer, I., Llorens, F., Frau-Mendez, L., Fernandez-Vega, I., Thune, K., del Río, J. A., Schmizt, M., Ansoleaga, B., Gotzmann, N., Cramm, M., Zerr, I., Zarranz, Juan José, (2016). EfiIdentification of new molecular alterations in Fatal Familial Insomnia Prion PRION 2016 , Taylor & Francis (Tokyo, Japan) 10, (Supplement), P-092

Fatal familial insomnia (FFI) is an autosomal dominant prion disease caused by a D178N mutation in PRNP in combination with methionine at codon 129 in the mutated allele of the same gene. The present study analyzes pathological and molecular features in 7 FFI cases carrying the mutation D178N and M homozygous at the codon 129 of PRNP. Severe neuronal loss and marked astrocytic gliosis was observed in every case in the mediodorsal and anterior nuclei of the thalamus whereas the entorhinal cortex (EC) was variably affected. Spongiform degeneration was only observed in the EC. Synaptic and fine granular PrPSc immunoreactivity was found in the EC but not in thalamus. Microglia was barely increased in the mediodorsal thalamus, but mRNA expression of IL6, IL10RA, CSF3R and TLR7 was found in the thalamus in FFI. PrPC levels were significantly decreased in the thalamus, EC and cerebellum in FFI compared with controls. However, increased expression of the non-glycosylated band of about 19 kDa was observed in the thalamus when using PrP antibodies mapping to the central region of the PrP comprising the


Reginensi, Diego, Carulla, Patricia, Nocentini, Sara, Seira, Oscar, Serra-Picamal, Xavier, Torres-Espín, Abel, Matamoros-Angles, Andreu, Gavín, Rosalina, Moreno-Flores, María Teresa, Wandosell, Francisco, Samitier, Josep, Trepat, Xavier, Navarro, Xavier, del Río, José Antonio, (2015). Increased migration of olfactory ensheathing cells secreting the Nogo receptor ectodomain over inhibitory substrates and lesioned spinal cord Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 72, (14), 2719-2737

Olfactory ensheathing cell (OEC) transplantation emerged some years ago as a promising therapeutic strategy to repair injured spinal cord. However, inhibitory molecules are present for long periods of time in lesioned spinal cord, inhibiting both OEC migration and axonal regrowth. Two families of these molecules, chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans (CSPG) and myelin-derived inhibitors (MAIs), are able to trigger inhibitory responses in lesioned axons. Mounting evidence suggests that OEC migration is inhibited by myelin. Here we demonstrate that OEC migration is largely inhibited by CSPGs and that inhibition can be overcome by the bacterial enzyme Chondroitinase ABC. In parallel, we have generated a stable OEC cell line overexpressing the Nogo receptor (NgR) ectodomain to reduce MAI-associated inhibition in vitro and in vivo. Results indicate that engineered cells migrate longer distances than unmodified OECs over myelin or oligodendrocyte-myelin glycoprotein (OMgp)-coated substrates. In addition, they also show improved migration in lesioned spinal cord. Our results provide new insights toward the improvement of the mechanisms of action and optimization of OEC-based cell therapy for spinal cord lesion.

Keywords: Olfactory ensheathing cells, Traction force microscopy, Chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans, Cell migration, Nogo receptor ectodomain


Vergara, C., Ordóñez-Gutiérrez, L., Wandosell, F., Ferrer, I., del Río, J. A., Gavín, R., (2015). Role of PrPC expression in tau protein levels and phosphorylation in alzheimer's disease evolution Molecular Neurobiology 51, (3), 1206-1220

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by the presence of amyloid plaques mainly consisting of hydrophobic β-amyloid peptide (Aβ) aggregates and neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) composed principally of hyperphosphorylated tau. Aβ oligomers have been described as the earliest effectors to negatively affect synaptic structure and plasticity in the affected brains, and cellular prion protein (PrPC) has been proposed as receptor for these oligomers. The most widely accepted theory holds that the toxic effects of Aβ are upstream of change in tau, a neuronal microtubule-associated protein that promotes the polymerization and stabilization of microtubules. However, tau is considered decisive for the progression of neurodegeneration, and, indeed, tau pathology correlates well with clinical symptoms such as dementia. Different pathways can lead to abnormal phosphorylation, and, as a consequence, tau aggregates into paired helical filaments (PHF) and later on into NFTs. Reported data suggest a regulatory tendency of PrPC expression in the development of AD, and a putative relationship between PrPC and tau processing is emerging. However, the role of tau/PrPC interaction in AD is poorly understood. In this study, we show increased susceptibility to Aβ-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs) in neuronal primary cultures from PrPC knockout mice, compared to wild-type, which correlates with increased tau expression. Moreover, we found increased PrPC expression that paralleled with tau at early ages in an AD murine model and in early Braak stages of AD in affected individuals. Taken together, these results suggest a protective role for PrPC in AD by downregulating tau expression, and they point to this protein as being crucial in the molecular events that lead to neurodegeneration in AD.

Keywords: Aβ oligomers, Alzheimer's disease, Cellular prion protein, Microtubule-associated protein tau


Llorens, Franc, Zafar, Saima, Ansoleaga, Belén, Shafiq, Mohsin, Blanco, Rosi, Carmona, Marga, Grau-Rivera, Oriol, Nos, Carlos, Gelpí, Ellen, del Río, José Antonio, Zerr, Inga, Ferrer, Isidre, (2015). Subtype and regional regulation of prion biomarkers in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology 41, (5), 631-645

Aims Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rapid progressive neurological disease leading to dementia and death. Prion biomarkers are altered in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of CJD patients, but the pathogenic mechanisms underlying these alterations are still unknown. The present study examined prion biomarker levels in the brain and CSF of sporadic CJD (sCJD) cases and their correlation with neuropathological lesion profiles. Methods The expression levels of 14-3-3, Tau, phospho-Tau and α-synuclein were measured in the CSF and brain of sCJD cases in a subtype- and region-specific manner. In addition, the activity of prion biomarker kinases, the expression levels of CJD hallmarks and the most frequent neuropathological sCJD findings were analysed. Results Prion biomarkers levels were increased in the CSF of sCJD patients; however, correlations between mRNA, total protein and their phosphorylated forms in brain were different. The observed downregulation of the main Tau kinase, GSK3, in sCJD brain samples may help to explain the differential phospho-Tau/Tau ratios between sCJD and other dementias in the CSF. Importantly, CSF biomarkers levels do not necessarily correlate with sCJD neuropathological findings. Interpretation Present findings indicate that prion biomarkers levels in sCJD tissues and their release into the CSF are differentially regulated following specific modulated responses, and suggest a functional role for these proteins in sCJD pathogenesis.

Keywords: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Prion Protein, Cerebrospinal fluid, Prion Biomarkers, disease subtype, Glycogen synthase kinase 3


Tong, Z., Segura-Feliu, M., Seira, O., Homs-Corbera, A., Del Río, J. A., Samitier, J., (2015). A microfluidic neuronal platform for neuron axotomy and controlled regenerative studies RSC Advances 5, (90), 73457-73466

Understanding the basic mechanisms of neural regeneration after injury is a pre-requisite for developing appropriate treatments. Traditional approaches to model axonal lesions, such as high intensity power laser ablation or sharp metal scratching, are complex to implement, have low throughputs, and generate cuts that are difficult to modulate. We present here a novel reproducible microfluidic approach to model in vitro mechanical lesion of tens to hundreds of axons simultaneously in a controlled manner. The dimensions of the induced axonal injury and its distance from the neuronal cell body are precisely controlled while preserving both the proximal and distal portions of axons. We have observed that distal axons undergo Wallerian-like anterograde degeneration after axotomy; in contrast, proximal portions of the axons remain un-degenerated, possessing the potential to re-grow. More importantly, surpassing the previous axotomy methods performed in Petridishes in which local microenvironments cannot be tailored, our platform holds the capability to implement fine-tuned treatments to lesioned axon stumps in a local, controlled manner. Specifically, molecules such as chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans and its degrading enzyme chondroitinase ABC, hydrogels, and supporting cells have been shown to be deliverable to the lesioned site of injured axons. In addition, this system also permits double interventions at the level of the lesioned axons and the perikaryon. This proves the potential of our model by demonstrating how axonal regrowth can be evaluated under circumstances that are better mimics of biological problems. We believe that this novel mechanical microfluidic axotomy approach is easy to perform, yields high throughput axon lesions, is physiologically relevant, and offers a simplified platform for screening of potential new neurological drugs.


Bribián, A., Nocentini, S., Llorens, F., Gil, V., Mire, E., Reginensi, D., Yoshida, Y., Mann, F., Del Río, J. A., (2014). Sema3E/PlexinD1 regulates the migration of hem-derived Cajal-Retzius cells in developing cerebral cortex Nature Communications 5, 4265

During the development of the cerebral cortex, Cajal-Retzius (CR) cells settle in the preplate and coordinate the precise growth of the neocortex. Indeed, CR cells migrate tangentially from specific proliferative regions of the telencephalon (for example, the cortical hem (CH)) to populate the entire cortical surface. This is a very finely tuned process regulated by an emerging number of factors that has been sequentially revealed in recent years. However, the putative participation of one of the major families of axon guidance molecules in this process, the Semaphorins, was not explored. Here we show that Semaphorin-3E (Sema3E) is a natural negative regulator of the migration of PlexinD1-positive CR cells originating in the CH. Our results also indicate that Sema3E/PlexinD1 signalling controls the motogenic potential of CR cells in vitro and in vivo. Indeed, absence of Sema3E/PlexinD1 signalling increased the migratory properties of CR cells. This modulation implies negative effects on CXCL12/CXCR4 signalling and increased ADF/Cofilin activity.


Llorens, F., Ferrer, I., del Río, J. A., (2014). Gene expression resulting from PrPC ablation and PrPC overexpression in murine and cellular models Molecular Neurobiology 49, (1), 413-423

The cellular prion protein (PrPC) plays a key role in prion diseases when it converts to the pathogenic form scrapie prion protein. Increasing knowledge of its participation in prion infection contrasts with the elusive and controversial data regarding its physiological role probably related to its pleiotropy, cell-specific functions, and cellular-specific milieu. Multiple approaches have been made to the increasing understanding of the molecular mechanisms and cellular functions modulated by PrPC at the transcriptomic and proteomic levels. Gene expression analyses have been made in several mouse and cellular models with regulated expression of PrPC resulting in PrPC ablation or PrPC overexpression. These analyses support previous functional data and have yielded clues about new potential functions. However, experiments on animal models have shown moderate and varied results which are difficult to interpret. Moreover, studies in cell cultures correlate little with in vivo counterparts. Yet, both animal and cell models have provided some insights on how to proceed in the future by using more refined methods and selected functional experiments.


Seira, O., del Río, J. A., (2014). Glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta (GSK3 Molecular Neurobiology 49, (2), 931-944

Gaining a basic understanding of the inhibitory molecules and the intracellular signaling involved in axon development and repulsion after neural lesions is of clear biomedical interest. In recent years, numerous studies have described new molecules and intracellular mechanisms that impair axonal outgrowth after injury. In this scenario, the role of glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta (GSK3β) in the axonal responses that occur after central nervous system (CNS) lesions began to be elucidated. GSK3β function in the nervous tissue is associated with neural development, neuron polarization, and, more recently, neurodegeneration. In fact, GSK3β has been considered as a putative therapeutic target for promoting functional recovery in injured or degenerative CNS. In this review, we summarize current understanding of the role of GSK3β during neuronal development and regeneration. In particular, we discuss GSK3β activity levels and their possible impact on cytoskeleton dynamics during both processes.


Tong, Z., Seira, O., Casas, C., Reginensi, D., Homs-Corbera, A., Samitier, J., Del Río, J. A., (2014). Engineering a functional neuro-muscular junction model in a chip RSC Advances 4, (97), 54788-54797

Healthy bi-directional intracellular transport along the axons between the somatodendritic and synaptic terminals is crucial to maintain the function and viability of neurons. When misbalanced, there is neuronal homeostasis failure that compromises its function and viability. In fact, several neurodegenerative diseases originate from misbalanced axonal transport and function. Thus numerous techniques have been developed to establish and maintain neuronal cultures in compartmented microfluidic devices to better understand these processes mimicking neuronal polarization. Although useful, these in vitro platforms do not allow for a full specific and temporal analysis in a completely monitored way. In this study, we have utilized a microfluidic system with large open cell culture reservoirs to precisely control neuronal microenvironments, capable of mimicking axon transport and synapse formation and to facilitate their analysis. We demonstrate using this lab-on-a-chip system for long-term motoneuron co-culture with C2C12-derived myotubes to mimic neuro-muscular junction (NMJ) formation. Furthermore, by integration with a calcium (Ca2+) imaging technique, we have proved the NMJ functionality in-chip through KCl-induced Ca2+ transient in connected myotubes. This platform can potentially become a useful tool as a straightforward, reproducible, and high-throughput in vitro model for basic NMJ research, and for high-throughput drug screening.


Gil, V., Nocentini, S., del Río, J. A., (2014). Historical first descriptions of Cajal-Retzius cells: From pioneer studies to current knowledge Frontiers in Neuroanatomy 8, Article 32 (9)

Santiago Ramón y Cajal developed a great body of scientific research during the last decade of 19th century, mainly between 1888 and 1892, when he published more than 30 manuscripts. The neuronal theory, the structure of dendrites and spines, and fine microscopic descriptions of numerous neural circuits are among these studies. In addition, numerous cell types (neuronal and glial) were described by Ramón y Cajal during this time using this "reazione nera" or Golgi method. Among these neurons were the special cells of the molecular layer of the neocortex. These cells were also termed Cajal cells or Retzius cells by other colleagues. Today these cells are known as Cajal-Retzius cells. From the earliest description, several biological aspects of these fascinating cells have been analyzed (e.g., cell morphology, physiological properties, origin and cellular fate, putative function during cortical development, etc). In this review we will summarize in a temporal basis the emerging knowledge concerning this cell population with specific attention the pioneer studies of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

Keywords: Calretinin, Cortical hem, Neocortical development, Pioneer neurons, Radial glia, Reelin


La Torre, A., Del Mar Masdeu, M., Cotrufo, T., Moubarak, R. S., Del Río, J. A., Comella, J. X., Soriano, E., Ureña, J. M., (2013). A role for the tyrosine kinase ACK1 in neurotrophin signaling and neuronal extension and branching Cell Death and Disease 4, (4), e602

Neurotrophins are involved in many crucial cellular functions, including neurite outgrowth, synapse formation, and plasticity. Although these events have long been known, the molecular determinants underlying neuritogenesis have not been fully characterized. Ack1 (activated Cdc42-associated tyrosine kinase) is a non-receptor tyrosine kinase that is highly expressed in the brain. Here, we demonstrate that Ack1 is a molecular constituent of neurotrophin signaling cascades in neurons and PC12 cells. We report that Ack1 interacts with Trk receptors and becomes tyrosine phosphorylated and its kinase activity is increased in response to neurotrophins. Moreover, our data indicate that Ack1 acts upstream of the Akt and MAPK pathways. We show that Ack1 overexpression induces neuritic outgrowth and promotes branching in neurotrophin-treated neuronal cells, whereas the expression of Ack1 dominant negatives or short-hairpin RNAs counteract neurotrophin-stimulated differentiation. Our results identify Ack1 as a novel regulator of neurotrophin-mediated events in primary neurons and in PC12 cells.

Keywords: Axonal, Branching, Dendritic, Neurotrophins, Tyrosine kinase


Ordoñez-Gutiérrez, L., Torres, J. M., Gavín, R., Antón, M., Arroba-Espinosa, A. I., Espinosa, J. C., Vergara, C., del Río, J. A., Wandosell, F., (2013). Cellular prion protein modulates Neurobiology of Aging 34, (12), 2793-2804

Alzheimer's disease and prion diseases are neuropathological disorders that are caused by abnormal processing and aggregation of amyloid and prion proteins. Interactions between amyloid precursor protein (APP) and PrPc proteins have been described at the neuron level. Accordingly to this putative interaction, we investigated whether β-amyloid accumulation may affect prion infectivity and, conversely, whether different amounts of PrP may affect β-amyloid accumulation. For this purpose, we used the APPswe/PS1dE9 mouse line, a common model of Alzheimer's disease, crossed with mice that either overexpress (Tga20) or that lack prion protein (knock-out) to generate mice that express varying amounts of prion protein and deposit β-amyloid. On these mouse lines, we investigated the influence of each protein on the evolution of both diseases. Our results indicated that although the presence of APP/PS1 and β-amyloid accumulation had no effect on prion infectivity, the accumulation of β-amyloid deposits was dependent on PrPc, whereby increasing levels of prion protein were accompanied by a significant increase in β-amyloid aggregation associated with aging.

Keywords: Aging, Amyloid, Neurodegeneration, Prion, Signaling


Llorens, F., Carulla, P., Villa, A., Torres, J. M., Fortes, P., Ferrer, I., Del Río, J. A., (2013). PrPC regulates epidermal growth factor receptor function and cell shape dynamics in Neuro2a cells Journal of Neurochemistry 127, (1), 124-138

The prion protein (PrP) plays a key role in prion disease pathogenesis. Although the misfolded and pathologic variant of this protein (PrPSC) has been studied in depth, the physiological role of PrPC remains elusive and controversial. PrPC is a cell-surface glycoprotein involved in multiple cellular functions at the plasma membrane, where it interacts with a myriad of partners and regulates several intracellular signal transduction cascades. However, little is known about the gene expression changes modulated by PrPC in animals and in cellular models. In this article, we present PrPC-dependent gene expression signature in N2a cells and its implication in the most overrepresented functions: cell cycle, cell growth and proliferation, and maintenance of cell shape. PrPC over-expression enhances cell proliferation and cell cycle re-entrance after serum stimulation, while PrPC silencing slows down cell cycle progression. In addition, MAP kinase and protein kinase B (AKT) pathway activation are under the regulation of PrPC in asynchronous cells and following mitogenic stimulation. These effects are due in part to the modulation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) by PrPC in the plasma membrane, where the two proteins interact in a multimeric complex. We also describe how PrPC over-expression modulates filopodia formation by Rho GTPase regulation mainly in an AKT-Cdc42-N-WASP-dependent pathway.

Keywords: Cell signaling, Cellular prion protein, Filopodia, Gene expression, Microarray, Proliferation


Vilches, S., Vergara, C., Nicolás, O., Sanclimens, G., Merino, S., Varón, S., Acosta, G. A., Albericio, F., Royo, M., Del Río, J. A., Gavín, R., (2013). Neurotoxicity of prion peptides mimicking the central domain of the cellular prion protein PLoS ONE 8, (8), e70881

The physiological functions of PrPC remain enigmatic, but the central domain, comprising highly conserved regions of the protein may play an important role. Indeed, a large number of studies indicate that synthetic peptides containing residues 106-126 (CR) located in the central domain (CD, 95-133) of PrPC are neurotoxic. The central domain comprises two chemically distinct subdomains, the charge cluster (CC, 95-110) and a hydrophobic region (HR, 112-133). The aim of the present study was to establish the individual cytotoxicity of CC, HR and CD. Our results show that only the CD peptide is neurotoxic. Biochemical, Transmission Electron Microscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy experiments demonstrated that the CD peptide is able to activate caspase-3 and disrupt the cell membrane, leading to cell death.


Riggio, C., Nocentini, S., Catalayud, M. P., Goya, G. F., Cuschieri, A., Raffa, V., del Río, J. A., (2013). Generation of magnetized olfactory ensheathing cells for regenerative studies in the central and peripheral nervous tissue International Journal of Molecular Sciences 14, (6), 10852-10868

As olfactory receptor axons grow from the peripheral to the central nervous system (CNS) aided by olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), the transplantation of OECs has been suggested as a plausible therapy for spinal cord lesions. The problem with this hypothesis is that OECs do not represent a single homogeneous entity, but, instead, a functionally heterogeneous population that exhibits a variety of responses, including adhesion and repulsion during cell-matrix interactions. Some studies report that the migratory properties of OECs are compromised by inhibitory molecules and potentiated by chemical gradients. In this paper, we report a system based on modified OECs carrying magnetic nanoparticles as a proof of concept experiment enabling specific studies aimed at exploring the potential of OECs in the treatment of spinal cord injuries. Our studies have confirmed that magnetized OECs (i) survive well without exhibiting stress-associated cellular responses; (ii) in vitro, their migration can be modulated by magnetic fields; and (iii) their transplantation in organotypic slices of spinal cord and peripheral nerve showed positive integration in the model. Altogether, these findings indicate the therapeutic potential of magnetized OECs for CNS injuries.

Keywords: Magnetic nanoparticle, Nerve regeneration, Olfactory ensheathing cell, Organotypic culture


Llorens, F., Ansoleaga, B., Garcia-Esparcia, P., Zafar, S., Grau-Rivera, O., López-González, I., Blanco, R., Carmona, M., Yagüe, J., Nos, C., Del Río, J. A., Gelpí, E., Zerr, I., Ferrer, I., (2013). PrP mRNa and protein expression in brain and PrPc in CSF in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease MM1 and VV2 Prion 7, (5), 383-393

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (cJD) is a heterogenic neurodegenerative disorder associated with abnormal posttranslational processing of cellular prion protein (PrPc). cJD displays distinctive clinical and pathological features which correlate with the genotype at the codon 129 (methionine or valine: M or V respectively) in the prion protein gene and with size of the protease-resistant core of the abnormal prion protein PrPsc (type 1:20/21 kDa and type 2:19 kDa). MM1 and VV2 are the most common sporadic cJD (scJD) subtypes. PrP mRNa expression levels in the frontal cortex and cerebellum are reduced in scJD in a form subtype-dependent. Total PrP protein levels and PrPsc levels in the frontal cortex and cerebellum accumulate differentially in scJD MM1 and scJD VV2 with no relation between PrPsc deposition and spongiform degeneration and neuron loss, but with microgliosis, and IL6 and TNF-α response. In the cSF, reduced PrPc, the only form present in this compartment, occurs in scJD MM1 and VV2. PrP mRNa expression is also reduced in the frontal cortex in advanced stages of alzheimer disease, Lewy body disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, and frontotemporal lobe degeneration, but PrPc levels in brain varies from one disease to another. Reduced PrPc levels in cSF correlate with PrP mRNa expression in brain, which in turn reflects severity of degeneration in scJD.


Gil, V., Del Río, J. A., (2012). Analysis of axonal growth and cell migration in 3D hydrogel cultures of embryonic mouse CNS tissue Nature Protocols 7, (2), 268-280

This protocol uses rat tail-derived type I collagen hydrogels to analyze key processes in developmental neurobiology, such as chemorepulsion and chemoattraction. The method is based on culturing small pieces of brain tissue from embryonic or early perinatal mice inside a 3D hydrogel formed by rat tail-derived type I collagen or, alternatively, by commercial Matrigel. The neural tissue is placed in the hydrogel with other brain tissue pieces or cell aggregates genetically modified to secrete a particular molecule that can generate a gradient inside the hydrogel. The present method is uncomplicated and generally reproducible, and only a few specific details need to be considered during its preparation. Moreover, the degree and behavior of axonal growth or neural migration can be observed directly using phase-contrast, fluorescence microscopy or immunocytochemical methods. This protocol can be carried out in 4 weeks.

Keywords: Cell biology, Cell culture, Developmental biology, Imaging, Model organisms, Neuroscience, Tissue culture


Newly generated olfactory receptor axons grow from the peripheral to the central nervous system aided by olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs). Thus, OEC transplantation has emerged as a promising therapy for spinal cord injuries and for other neural diseases. However, these cells do not present a uniform population, but instead a functionally heterogeneous population that exhibits a variety of responses including adhesion, repulsion, and crossover during cell–cell and cell–matrix interactions. Some studies report that the migratory properties of OECs are compromised by inhibitory molecules and potentiated by chemical gradients. Here, we demonstrated that rodent OECs express all the components of the Nogo receptor complex and that their migration is blocked by myelin. Next, we used cell tracking and traction force microscopy to analyze OEC migration and its mechanical properties over myelin. Our data relate the decrease of traction force of OEC with lower migratory capacity over myelin, which correlates with changes in the F-actin cytoskeleton and focal adhesion distribution. Lastly, OEC traction force and migratory capacity is enhanced after cell incubation with the Nogo receptor inhibitor NEP1-40.

Keywords: Ensheathing glia, Traction force, microscopy, Migration, Myelin-associated inhibitors


Bribián, Ana, Fontana, Xavier, Llorens, Franc, Gavín, Rosalina, Reina, Manuel, García-Verdugo, José Manuel, Torres, Juan María, de Castro, Fernando, Del Río, J.A., (2012). Role of the cellular prion protein in oligodendrocyte precursor cell proliferation and differentiation in the developing and adult mouse CNS PLoS ONE 7, (4), e33872

There are numerous studies describing the signaling mechanisms that mediate oligodendrocyte precursor cell (OPC) proliferation and differentiation, although the contribution of the cellular prion protein (PrPc) to this process remains unclear. PrPc is a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored glycoprotein involved in diverse cellular processes during the development and maturation of the mammalian central nervous system (CNS). Here we describe how PrPc influences oligodendrocyte proliferation in the developing and adult CNS. OPCs that lack PrPc proliferate more vigorously at the expense of a delay in differentiation, which correlates with changes in the expression of oligodendrocyte lineage markers. In addition, numerous NG2-positive cells were observed in cortical regions of adult PrPc knockout mice, although no significant changes in myelination can be seen, probably due to the death of surplus cells.


Gavín, R., Ferrer, I., del Río, J. A., (2010). Involvement of Dab1 in APP processing and [beta]-amyloid deposition in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob patients Neurobiology of Disease 37, (2), 324-329

Alzheimer's disease and prion pathologies (e.g., Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)) display profound neural lesions associated with aberrant protein processing and extracellular amyloid deposits. Dab1 has been implicated in the regulation of amyloid precursor protein (APP), but a direct link between human prion diseases and Dab1/APP interactions has not been published. Here we examined this putative relationship in 17 cases of sporadic CJD (sCJD) post-mortem. Biochemical analyses of brain tissue revealed two groups, which also correlated with PrPsc types 1 and 2. One group with PrPsc type 1 showed increased Dab1 phosphorylation and lower [beta]CTF production with an absence of A[beta] deposition. The second sCJD group, which carried PrPsc type 2, showed lower levels of Dab1 phosphorylation and [beta]CTF production, and A[beta] deposition. Thus, the present observations suggest a correlation between Dab1 phosphorylation, A[beta] deposition and PrPsc type in sCJD.

Keywords: Prionopathies, Amyloid plaques, Alzheimer's disease, Dab1


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