Prion diseases are a group of fatal neurodegenerative disorders that are unique in being infectious, genetic, and sporadic in origin. Infectious cases are caused by prions, which are composed primarily of PrPSc, a posttranslationally modified isoform of the normal cellular prion protein PrPC. Inherited cases are linked to insertional or point mutations in the host gene encoding PrPC. To investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying inherited prion diseases, we have constructed stably transfected Chinese hamster ovary cells that express mouse PrPs homologous to two human PrPs associated with familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. One mouse PrP molecule carries a Glu-->Lys substitution at codon 199, and the other carries an insertion of six additional octapeptide repeats between codons 51 and 90. We find that both of these mutant PrPs display several biochemical hallmarks of PrPSc when synthesized in cell culture. Unlike wild-type PrP, the mutant proteins are detergent insoluble and are relatively resistant to digestion by proteinase K, yielding an N-terminally truncated core fragment of 27-30 kDa. Pulse-chase labeling experiments demonstrate that these properties are acquired posttranslationally, and are accompanied by increased metabolic stability of the protein. Our results provide the first evidence that a molecule with properties reminiscent of PrPSc can be generated de novo in cultured cells.