Building on his revolutionary discovery in 1982, Dr. Stanley Prusiner and his colleagues at the IND have led the field in the study of prions, from their initial discovery to recent breakthroughs in their detection and treatment.

Prions (pronounced "PREE-ons") are formed from proteins normally present in the brain. As proteins turn into prions, they adopt an aberrant shape, which becomes self-propagating. And as prions accumulate, these abnormally folded, toxic proteins cause the brain to dysfunction. When prions spread throughout the brain, they cause irreversible damage. In each of the neurodegenerative diseases, a specific protein turns into a prion. The following lists some neurodegenerative diseases and the protein(s) that cause them.


Neurodegenerative Disease Causative Protein(s)
Mad cow, scrapie, kuru, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease Prion protein
Alzheimer's disease Abeta, tau
Parkinson's disease alpha-synuclein
Frontotemporal dementia tau
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) SOD1, TDP43, Fus
Huntington's disease huntingtin