Ultrastructural characteristics (or evaluation) of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other human transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases

Paweł P Liberski, Beata Sikorska, Jean-Jacques Hauw, Nicolas Kopp, Nathalie Streichenberger, Pierrie Giraud, Jan Boellaard, Herbert Budka, Gabor G Kovacs, James Ironside, Paul Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The authors report on a large series of human prion diseases to establish ultrastructural characteristics that may be useful for their diagnosis. 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, such as the presence of myelinated vacuoles, branching cisternae, 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 nonneuritic, whereas GSS florid plaques are usually neuritic; however, a proportion of plaques from GSS was also found to have nonneuritic 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 mutations P102L, 232T, and A117V plaques were stellate while in 1 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 2 cases of sporadic CJD, the kuru stellate plaque predominated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-61
Number of pages11
JournalUltrastructural pathology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biopsy
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insomnia, Fatal Familial
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Presynaptic Terminals
  • Prions
  • Vacuoles


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