Jerome Whitfield

UCL Eastman Dental Institute, Londinium, England, United Kingdom

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Publications (15)240.55 Total impact

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Mammalian prions, transmissible agents causing lethal neurodegenerative diseases, are composed of assemblies of misfolded cellular prion protein (PrP)1. A novel PrP variant, G127V, was under positive evolutionary selection during the epidemic of kuru—an acquired prion disease epidemic of the Fore population in Papua New Guinea—and appeared to provide strong protection against disease in the heterozygous state2. Here we have investigated the protective role of this variant and its interaction with the common, worldwide M129V PrP polymorphism. V127 was seen exclusively on a M129 PRNP allele. We demonstrate that transgenic mice expressing both variant and wild-type human PrP are completely resistant to both kuru and classical Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) prions (which are closely similar) but can be infected with variant CJD prions, a human prion strain resulting from exposure to bovine spongiform encephalopathy prions to which the Fore were not exposed. Notably, mice expressing only PrP V127 were completely resistant to all prion strains, demonstrating a different molecular mechanism to M129V, which provides its relative protection against classical CJD and kuru in the heterozygous state. Indeed, this single amino acid substitution (Gright arrowV) at a residue invariant in vertebrate evolution is as protective as deletion of the protein. Further study in transgenic mice expressing different ratios of variant and wild-type PrP indicates that not only is PrP V127 completely refractory to prion conversion but acts as a potent dose-dependent inhibitor of wild-type prion propagation.
    Nature 06/2015; DOI:10.1038/nature14510 · 42.35 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Prion diseases are a diverse group of neurodegenerative conditions, caused by the templated misfolding of prion protein. Aside from the strong genetic risk conferred by multiple variants of the prion protein gene (PRNP), several other variants have been suggested to confer risk in the most common type, sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD) or in the acquired prion diseases. Large and rare copy number variants (CNVs) are known to confer risk in several related disorders including Alzheimer's disease (at APP), schizophrenia, epilepsy, mental retardation, and autism. Here, we report the first genome-wide analysis for CNV-associated risk using data derived from a recent international collaborative association study in sCJD (n = 1147 after quality control) and publicly available controls (n = 5427). We also investigated UK patients with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (n = 114) and elderly women from the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea who proved highly resistant to the epidemic prion disease kuru, who were compared with healthy young Fore population controls (n = 395). There were no statistically significant alterations in the burden of CNVs >100, >500, or >1000 kb, duplications, or deletions in any disease group or geographic region. After correction for multiple testing, no statistically significant associations were found. A UK blood service control sample showed a duplication CNV that overlapped PRNP, but these were not found in prion disease. Heterozygous deletions of a 3' region of the PARK2 gene were found in 3 sCJD patients and no controls (p = 0.001, uncorrected). A cell-based prion infection assay did not provide supportive evidence for a role for PARK2 in prion disease susceptibility. These data are consistent with a modest impact of CNVs on risk of late-onset neurologic conditions and suggest that, unlike APP, PRNP duplication is not a causal high-risk mutation. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Neurobiology of Aging 01/2015; 36(5). DOI:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2015.01.011 · 4.85 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Prion diseases are fatal neurodegenerative diseases of humans and animals caused by the misfolding and aggregation of prion protein (PrP). Mammalian prion diseases are under strong genetic control but few risk factors are known aside from the PrP gene locus (PRNP). No genome-wide association study (GWAS) has been done aside from a small sample of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). We conducted GWAS of sporadic CJD (sCJD), variant CJD (vCJD), iatrogenic CJD, inherited prion disease, kuru and resistance to kuru despite attendance at mortuary feasts. After quality control, we analysed 2000 samples and 6015 control individuals (provided by the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium and KORA-gen) for 491032-511862 SNPs in the European study. Association studies were done in each geographical and aetiological group followed by several combined analyses. The PRNP locus was highly associated with risk in all geographical and aetiological groups. This association was driven by the known coding variation at rs1799990 (PRNP codon 129). No non-PRNP loci achieved genome-wide significance in the meta-analysis of all human prion disease. SNPs at the ZBTB38-RASA2 locus were associated with CJD in the UK (rs295301, P = 3.13 × 10(-8); OR, 0.70) but these SNPs showed no replication evidence of association in German sCJD or in Papua New Guinea-based tests. A SNP in the CHN2 gene was associated with vCJD [P = 1.5 × 10(-7); odds ratio (OR), 2.36], but not in UK sCJD (P = 0.049; OR, 1.24), in German sCJD or in PNG groups. In the overall meta-analysis of CJD, 14 SNPs were associated (P < 10(-5); two at PRNP, three at ZBTB38-RASA2, nine at nine other independent non-PRNP loci), more than would be expected by chance. None of the loci recently identified as genome-wide significant in studies of other neurodegenerative diseases showed any clear evidence of association in prion diseases. Concerning common genetic variation, it is likely that the PRNP locus contains the only strong risk factors that act universally across human prion diseases. Our data are most consistent with several other risk loci of modest overall effects which will require further genetic association studies to provide definitive evidence.
    Human Molecular Genetics 12/2011; 21(8):1897-906. DOI:10.1093/hmg/ddr607 · 6.68 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Kuru is a devastating epidemic prion disease that affected a highly restricted geographic area of the Papua New Guinea highlands; at its peak, it predominantly affected adult women and children of both sexes. Its incidence has steadily declined since the cessation of its route of transmission, endocannibalism. We performed genetic and selected clinical and genealogic assessments of more than 3000 persons from Eastern Highland populations, including 709 who participated in cannibalistic mortuary feasts, 152 of whom subsequently died of kuru. Persons who were exposed to kuru and survived the epidemic in Papua New Guinea are predominantly heterozygotes at the known resistance factor at codon 129 of the prion protein gene (PRNP). We now report a novel PRNP variant--G127V--that was found exclusively in people who lived in the region in which kuru was prevalent and that was present in half of the otherwise susceptible women from the region of highest exposure who were homozygous for methionine at PRNP codon 129. Although this allele is common in the area with the highest incidence of kuru, it is not found in patients with kuru and in unexposed population groups worldwide. Genealogic analysis reveals a significantly lower incidence of kuru in pedigrees that harbor the protective allele than in geographically matched control families. The 127V polymorphism is an acquired prion disease resistance factor selected during the kuru epidemic, rather than a pathogenic mutation that could have triggered the kuru epidemic. Variants at codons 127 and 129 of PRNP demonstrate the population genetic response to an epidemic of prion disease and represent a powerful episode of recent selection in humans.
    New England Journal of Medicine 11/2009; 361(21):2056-65. DOI:10.1056/NEJMoa0809716 · 54.42 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Prion diseases are fatal transmissible neurodegenerative disorders, which include Scrapie, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), and kuru. They are characterised by a prolonged clinically silent incubation period, variation in which is determined by many factors, including genetic background. We have used a heterogeneous stock of mice to identify Hectd2, an E3 ubiquitin ligase, as a quantitative trait gene for prion disease incubation time in mice. Further, we report an association between HECTD2 haplotypes and susceptibility to the acquired human prion diseases, vCJD and kuru. We report a genotype-associated differential expression of Hectd2 mRNA in mouse brains and human lymphocytes and a significant up-regulation of transcript in mice at the terminal stage of prion disease. Although the substrate of HECTD2 is unknown, these data highlight the importance of proteosome-directed protein degradation in neurodegeneration. This is the first demonstration of a mouse quantitative trait gene that also influences susceptibility to human prion diseases. Characterisation of such genes is key to understanding human risk and the molecular basis of incubation periods.
    PLoS Genetics 03/2009; 5(2):e1000383. DOI:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000383 · 8.17 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Human and animal prion diseases are under genetic control, but apart from PRNP (the gene that encodes the prion protein), we understand little about human susceptibility to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prions, the causal agent of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). We did a genome-wide association study of the risk of vCJD and tested for replication of our findings in samples from many categories of human prion disease (929 samples) and control samples from the UK and Papua New Guinea (4254 samples), including controls in the UK who were genotyped by the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium. We also did follow-up analyses of the genetic control of the clinical phenotype of prion disease and analysed candidate gene expression in a mouse cellular model of prion infection. The PRNP locus was strongly associated with risk across several markers and all categories of prion disease (best single SNP [single nucleotide polymorphism] association in vCJD p=2.5 x 10(-17); best haplotypic association in vCJD p=1 x 10(-24)). Although the main contribution to disease risk was conferred by PRNP polymorphic codon 129, another nearby SNP conferred increased risk of vCJD. In addition to PRNP, one technically validated SNP association upstream of RARB (the gene that encodes retinoic acid receptor beta) had nominal genome-wide significance (p=1.9 x 10(-7)). A similar association was found in a small sample of patients with iatrogenic CJD (p=0.030) but not in patients with sporadic CJD (sCJD) or kuru. In cultured cells, retinoic acid regulates the expression of the prion protein. We found an association with acquired prion disease, including vCJD (p=5.6 x 10(-5)), kuru incubation time (p=0.017), and resistance to kuru (p=2.5 x 10(-4)), in a region upstream of STMN2 (the gene that encodes SCG10). The risk genotype was not associated with sCJD but conferred an earlier age of onset. Furthermore, expression of Stmn2 was reduced 30-fold post-infection in a mouse cellular model of prion disease. The polymorphic codon 129 of PRNP was the main genetic risk factor for vCJD; however, additional candidate loci have been identified, which justifies functional analyses of these biological pathways in prion disease.
    The Lancet Neurology 02/2009; 8(1):57-66. DOI:10.1016/S1474-4422(08)70265-5 · 21.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The acquired prion disease kuru was restricted to the Fore and neighbouring linguistic groups of the Papua New Guinea highlands and largely affected children and adult women. Oral history documents the onset of the epidemic in the early twentieth century, followed by a peak in the mid-twentieth century and subsequently a well-documented decline in frequency. In the context of these strong associations (gender, region and time), we have considered the genetic factors associated with susceptibility and resistance to kuru. Heterozygosity at codon 129 of the human prion protein gene (PRNP) is known to confer relative resistance to both sporadic and acquired prion diseases. In kuru, heterozygosity is associated with older patients and longer incubation times. Elderly survivors of the kuru epidemic, who had multiple exposures at mortuary feasts, are predominantly PRNP codon 129 heterozygotes and this group show marked Hardy-Weinberg disequilibrium. The deviation from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium is most marked in elderly women, but is also significant in a slightly younger cohort of men, consistent with their exposure to kuru as boys. Young Fore and the elderly from populations with no history of kuru show Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. An increasing cline in 129V allele frequency centres on the kuru region, consistent with the effect of selection in elevating the frequency of resistant genotypes in the exposed population. The genetic data are thus strikingly correlated with exposure. Considering the strong coding sequence conservation of primate prion protein genes, the number of global coding polymorphisms in man is surprising. By intronic resequencing in a European population, we have shown that haplotype diversity at PRNP comprises two major and divergent clades associated with 129M and 129V. Kuru may have imposed the strongest episode of recent human balancing selection, which may not have been an isolated episode in human history.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 12/2008; 363(1510):3741-6. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2008.0087 · 6.31 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: This paper is part of a wider study to explain the historical spread and changing epidemiological patterns of kuru by analysing factors that affect the transmission of kuru. Part of the study has been to look at the mortuary feasts that were the means of transmission of the kuru agent. This paper shows the complexity of Fore eschatology, and the variations and contradictions of human behaviour in relation to mortuary rites and the transmission of kuru. It also confirms that oral ingestion was the primary route of inoculation though some cases of parenteral inoculation may have occurred. The exclusion of alternative routes of transmission is of importance owing to the dietary exposure of the UK and other populations to bovine spongiform encephalopathy prions.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 12/2008; 363(1510):3721-4. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2008.0074 · 6.31 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Kuru is so far the principal human epidemic prion disease. While its incidence has steadily declined since the cessation of its route of transmission, endocannibalism, in Papua New Guinea in the 1950s, the arrival of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), also thought to be transmitted by dietary prion exposure, has given kuru a new global relevance. We investigated all suspected cases of kuru from July 1996 to June 2004 and identified 11 kuru patients. There were four females and seven males, with an age range of 46-63 years at the onset of disease, in marked contrast to the age and sex distribution when kuru was first investigated 50 years ago. We obtained detailed histories of residence and exposure to mortuary feasts and performed serial neurological examination and genetic studies where possible. All patients were born a significant period before the mortuary practice of transumption ceased and their estimated incubation periods in some cases exceeded 50 years. The principal clinical features of kuru in the studied patients showed the same progressive cerebellar syndrome that had been previously described. Two patients showed marked cognitive impairment well before preterminal stages, in contrast to earlier clinical descriptions. In these patients, the mean clinical duration of 17 months was longer than the overall average in kuru but similar to that previously reported for the same age group, and this may relate to the effects of both patient age and PRNP codon 129 genotype. Importantly, no evidence for lymphoreticular colonization with prions, seen uniformly in vCJD, was observed in a patient with kuru at tonsil biopsy.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 12/2008; 363(1510):3725-39. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2008.0068 · 6.31 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: While the neuropathology of kuru is well defined, there are few data concerning the distribution of disease-related prion protein in peripheral tissues. Here we report the investigation of brain and peripheral tissues from a kuru patient who died in 2003. Neuropathological findings were compared with those seen in classical (sporadic and iatrogenic) Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and variant CJD (vCJD). The neuropathological findings of the kuru patient showed all the stereotypical changes that define kuru, with the occurrence of prominent PrP plaques throughout the brain. Lymphoreticular tissue showed no evidence of prion colonization, suggesting that the peripheral pathogenesis of kuru is similar to that seen in classical CJD rather than vCJD. These findings now strongly suggest that the characteristic peripheral pathogenesis of vCJD is determined by prion strain type alone rather than route of infection.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 12/2008; 363(1510):3755-63. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2008.0091 · 6.31 Impact Factor
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    Jerome T Whitfield
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 12/2008; 363(1510):3671. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2008.4035 · 6.31 Impact Factor
  • J COLLINGE, J WHITFIELD, E MCKINTOSH, et al
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    ABSTRACT: NOV 27 2008, A clinical study of kuru patients with long incubation periods at the end of the epidemic in Papua New Guinea
    01/2008
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Kuru is so far the principal human epidemic prion disease. While its incidence has steadily declined since the cessation of its route of transmission, endocannibalism, in Papua New Guinea in the 1950s, the arrival of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), also thought to be transmitted by dietary prion exposure, has given kuru a new global relevance. We investigated all suspected cases of kuru from July 1996 to June 2004 and identified 11 kuru patients. There were four females and seven males, with an age range of 46-63 years at the onset of disease, in marked contrast to the age and sex distribution when kuru was first investigated 50 years ago. We obtained detailed histories of residence and exposure to mortuary feasts and performed serial neurological examination and genetic studies where possible. All patients were born a significant period before the mortuary practice of transumption ceased and their estimated incubation periods in some cases exceeded 50 years. The principal clinical features of kuru in the studied patients showed the same progressive cerebellar syndrome that had been previously described. Two patients showed marked cognitive impairment well before preterminal stages, in contrast to earlier clinical descriptions. In these patients, the mean clinical duration of 17 months was longer than the overall average in kuru but similar to that previously reported for the same age group, and this may relate to the effects of both patient age and PRNP codon 129 genotype. Importantly, no evidence for lymphoreticular colonization with prions, seen uniformly in vCJD, was observed in a patient with kuru at tonsil biopsy.
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    ABSTRACT: Kuru provides the principal experience of epidemic human prion disease. Its incidence has steadily fallen after the abrupt cessation of its route of transmission (endocannibalism) in Papua New Guinea in the 1950s. The onset of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), and the unknown prevalence of infection after the extensive dietary exposure to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prions in the UK, has led to renewed interest in kuru. We investigated possible incubation periods, pathogenesis, and genetic susceptibility factors in kuru patients in Papua New Guinea. We strengthened active kuru surveillance in 1996 with an expanded field team to investigate all suspected patients. Detailed histories of residence and exposure to mortuary feasts were obtained together with serial neurological examination, if possible. We identified 11 patients with kuru from July, 1996, to June, 2004, all living in the South Fore. All patients were born before the cessation of cannibalism in the late 1950s. The minimum estimated incubation periods ranged from 34 to 41 years. However, likely incubation periods in men ranged from 39 to 56 years and could have been up to 7 years longer. PRNP analysis showed that most patients with kuru were heterozygous at polymorphic codon 129, a genotype associated with extended incubation periods and resistance to prion disease. Incubation periods of infection with human prions can exceed 50 years. In human infection with BSE prions, species-barrier effects, which are characteristic of cross-species transmission, would be expected to further increase the mean and range of incubation periods, compared with recycling of prions within species. These data should inform attempts to model variant CJD epidemiology.
    The Lancet 07/2006; 367(9528):2068-74. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68930-7 · 39.21 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Kuru is an acquired prion disease largely restricted to the Fore linguistic group of the Papua New Guinea Highlands, which was transmitted during endocannibalistic feasts. Heterozygosity for a common polymorphism in the human prion protein gene (PRNP) confers relative resistance to prion diseases. Elderly survivors of the kuru epidemic, who had multiple exposures at mortuary feasts, are, in marked contrast to younger unexposed Fore, predominantly PRNP 129 heterozygotes. Kuru imposed strong balancing selection on the Fore, essentially eliminating PRNP 129 homozygotes. Worldwide PRNP haplotype diversity and coding allele frequencies suggest that strong balancing selection at this locus occurred during the evolution of modern humans.
    Science 05/2003; 300(5619):640-3. DOI:10.1126/science.1083320 · 31.48 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

641 Citations
240.55 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2008–2015
    • UCL Eastman Dental Institute
      Londinium, England, United Kingdom
    • Curtin University
      Bentley, Western Australia, Australia
  • 2008–2011
    • Curtin University Australia
      • Centre for International Health
      Bentley, Western Australia, Australia
  • 2009
    • Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research
      New Garoka, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea
    • Medical Research Council (UK)
      • Institute of Neurology
      Londinium, England, United Kingdom
  • 2003–2006
    • University College London
      • Department of Neurodegenerative Disease
      Londinium, England, United Kingdom