Prion Diseases pp 123-143 | Cite as

Electron Microscopy of Prion Diseases

  • Paweł P. LiberskiEmail author
Part of the Neuromethods book series (NM, volume 129)


Electron microscopy provided detailed description of submicroscopic changes in prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). For Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD and its variant, vCJD) and fatal familial insomnia (FFI) only vacuolation (spongiform change) and the presence of tubulovesicular structures are consistent findings. Other changes—i.e., the presence of “myelinated” vacuoles, branching cisterns, neuroaxonal dystrophy, and autophagic vacuoles—were present in different proportions in either CJD or FFI, but they are nonspecific ultrastructural findings that can also occur in other neurodegenerative conditions.

The hallmark of Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease (GSS) and vCJD is the amyloid plaque, but plaques of GSS and kuru are different than those of vCJD. Whereas the former are typical unicentric “kuru-type” or multicentric plaques, the latter are unicentric “florid” plaques. Also, kuru plaques are non-neuritic, whereas GSS florid plaques are usually neuritic; however, a proportion of plaques from GSS were also found to have non-neuritic characteristics. Thus, the presence or absence of dystrophic neurites is not a discriminatory factor for GSS and vCJD. Furthermore, plaques from GSS with different mutations were also slightly different. In GSS with mutation P102L, 232T and A117V plaques were “stellate” while in one case with 144 base pair insertion and in GSS-A117V, “round” plaques were also observed, and typical “primitive” “neuritic” plaques, i.e., composed of dystrophic neurites with little or no amyloid, were found only in a P102L case from the original Austrian family. In two cases of sporadic CJD, the kuru “stellate” plaque predominated.

Key words

Prion diseases Electron microscopy Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease 


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© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Molecular Pathology and NeuropathologyMedical University of LodzLodzPoland

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