Reversible chemical modification of the scrapie agent

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Science  11 Dec 1981:
Vol. 214, Issue 4526, pp. 1259-1261
DOI: 10.1126/science.6795721


The scrapie agent causes a degenerative nervous system disease in sheep and goats. Studies with extensively purified preparations demonstrated that the agent contains a protein that is required for infectivity. Chemical modification of the scrapie agent by diethyl pyrocarbonate reduced the titer 1000-fold. Exposure of the inactivated agent to hydroxylamine, a strong nucleophile, resulted in complete restoration of infectivity. Presumably, nucleophilic residues within a scrapie agent protein undergo carbethoxylation on reaction with diethyl pyrocarbonate, and subsequent addition of hydroxylamine displaces these carbethoxy groups.