Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Last updated: June 5, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a neurodegenerative condition that is caused by misfolded protein particles (prions). Prion diseases are very rare overall. CJD is the most common prion disease in humans. In most cases, no direct cause of CJD can be established. However, there are also familial forms due to gene mutation or acquired forms as prion particles can be transmitted between individuals, making CJD an infectious disease. Accumulation of prion particles in the brain eventually leads to neuronal degeneration and clinical onset of the disease. The cardinal symptoms of CJD are rapidly progressive dementia and myoclonus. Most patients die within 12 months following disease manifestation. Imaging, EEG, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests provide diagnostic evidence, although a definite diagnosis can only be made via biopsy or autopsy. To date, no curative treatment is available.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

  • CJD is the most common prion disease in humans. [1][2]
  • In the US, there are approximately 1–1.5 cases of sporadic CJD per million population annually.
  • Mean age of onset of sporadic CJD: ∼ 60 years [3]

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

CJD is caused by misfolded proteins (prions, PrPSc) that are either produced by affected individual themselves, or taken up from an exogenous source. [4][5][6]

Pathophysiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Conversion of normal cellular prion proteins with alpha-helical structure (PrPc) to prions that demonstrate an increase in beta-pleated sheet structure (PrPSc) → conformational change of physiological PrPc; PrPSc accumulation and plaque formation neuronal cell death progression to spongiform encephalopathy [8][9][10]
  • Since misfolded prions are insoluble, they deposit as plaques resistant to proteases and standard autoclaving, thus contributing to the formation of more PrPSc.

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

The latency period until symptom onset varies greatly with the type of exposition (e.g., between 5 and 30 years in some cases of iatrogenic CJD). [11]

Rapidly progressive dementia and myoclonic jerks are the hallmarks of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Instrumental diagnostics [3]

  • CSF analysis [13]
  • RT-QuIC: a diagnostic tool for sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [14]
    • Involves mixing of CSF taken from an individual with suspected CJD with recombinant prion protein (rPrP) and thioflavin T.
    • If CSF contains PrPSc, PrPSc will induce conformation changes in rPrP.
    • Aggregated rPrP fibrils bind to thioflavin T, which will start to fluoresce.
    • Fluorescence can be measured and shows a characteristic sigmoidal curve.
    • The whole process can take up to 90 hours.
  • Imaging: : MRI frequently shows hyperintensity in the basal ganglia, insular cortices, and the frontal cortices
  • EEG: : triphasic periodic sharp wave complexes with a frequency of 1–2 Hz
  • Brain biopsy

Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

Other diseases commonly associated with the development of dementia:

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

  • No curative therapy available: Sporadic CJD typically leads to death within one year of symptom onset. [1][2]
  • Symptomatic treatment and eventually palliative care

Following disease manifestation, most individuals with sporadic CJD die within 12 months, usually from complications such as pneumonia.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Classic CJD versus Variant CJD. Updated: February 11, 2015. Accessed: March 31, 2017.
  2. About CJD. Updated: February 11, 2015. Accessed: March 31, 2017.
  3. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Fact Sheet. Updated: March 1, 2003. Accessed: March 31, 2017.
  4. Kasper DL, Fauci AS, Hauser SL, Longo DL, Lameson JL, Loscalzo J. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. McGraw-Hill Education ; 2015
  5. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Updated: February 1, 2017. Accessed: March 31, 2017.
  6. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease. Updated: February 6, 2015. Accessed: March 31, 2017.
  7. Clift K, Guthrie K, Klee EW, et al. Familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: Case report and role of genetic counseling in post mortem testing.. Prion. 2016; 10 (6): p.502-506.doi: 10.1080/19336896.2016.1254858 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  8. Budka H, Aguzzi A, Brown P, et al. Neuropathological diagnostic criteria for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and other human spongiform encephalopathies (drion diseases). Brain Pathol. 1995; 5 (4): p.459-466.doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3639.1995.tb00625.x . | Open in Read by QxMD
  9. Infections of the Nerous System. Updated: May 1, 2018. Accessed: May 31, 2018.
  10. Tschampa HJ, Herms JW, Schulz‐Schaeffer WJ, et al. Clinical findings in sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease correlate with thalamic pathology. Brain. 2002; 125 (11): p.2558-2566.doi: 10.1093/brain/awf253 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  11. Johnston L, Conly J. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Infection Control. Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2001; 12 (6): p.332-336.doi: 10.1155/2001/786564 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  12. Nagaratnam N, Pavan G. Mutism in the older adult. Geriatrics and Aging. 2005; 8 (8): p.61-68.
  13. Green AJE. Use of 14-3-3 and other brain-specific proteins in CSF in the diagnosis of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 2001; 70 (6): p.744-748.doi: 10.1136/jnnp.70.6.744 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  14. Green AJE. RT-QuIC: a new test for sporadic CJD.. Pract Neurol. 2019; 19 (1): p.49-55.doi: 10.1136/practneurol-2018-001935 . | Open in Read by QxMD

Icon of a lock3 free articles remaining

You have 3 free member-only articles left this month. Sign up and get unlimited access.
 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer