Graduation Year


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Biological and Physical Sciences

Faculty Advisor

Anthony Sacino


Prion diseases are transmissible spongiform encephalopathies that cause the neurons of the brain to become damaged and die. Prions are a unique infectious particle as they are not like bacteria or viruses since they lack nucleic acid. The PrPSc protein is responsible for the infections caused by prion diseases and accumulates in the brain. PrPSc has a beta sheet conformation and is responsible for disease in both humans and animals. Scientists have investigated prion diseases in the laboratory to try and understand how these diseases spread and can infect different species. Several of these studies have looked at the roles that essential metals play within the body and their possible contribution to prion diseases. Metals are essential for life, as they act like cofactors of many enzymes and are involved in cellular respiration and metabolism; transition metals however are potentially harmful to cells as they participate in redox reactions, producing reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can oxidize proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. Metal homeostasis may be induced and contribute to neurodegeneration. Reducing metal homeostasis and limiting ROS and free radical production could serve as protection from the neurodegeneration seen in prion diseases. This research paper utilized scientific literature to examine the transition metals zinc, copper, iron, and manganese, pathology of prion diseases, the effects that these metals have on disease formation, and potential treatment methods.