Prion diseases are invariably lethal neurodegenerative diseases, associated with the structural conversion of the cellular isoform of the prion protein to its pathological, disease-associated isoform. The cellular isoform of the prion protein is highly conserved and virtually ubiquitously expressed; nevertheless, its physiological role remains unclear. Mounting evidence suggests its involvement in the regulation and function of the immune system. At the same time, the immune system is heavily involved in the pathogenesis of the diseases, playing a major role in the peripheral replication of the infectious agent and spread toward the central nervous system. On the other hand, immunotherapies are among the most promising means of intervention. This chapter deals with these fascinating and sometimes contrasting aspects of prion biology, with an emphasis on the immunization protocols developed for prophylaxis and treatment of prion diseases.
Part of the book: Prion