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Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has become a public health issue because a recently evolved BSE agent has infected people, yielding an unusual form of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD). A new CJD agent that provokes similar amyloid plaques and cerebellar pathology was serially propagated. First-passage rats showed obvious clinical signs and activated microglia but had negligible PrP-res (the more protease-resistant form of host PrP) or cerebellar lesions. Microglia and astrocytes may participate in strain selection because the agent evolved, stabilized, and reproducibly provoked BSE-like disease in subsequent passages. Early vacuolar change involving activated microglia and astrocytes preceded significant PrP-res accumulation by more than 50 days. These studies reveal several inflammatory host reactions to an exogenous agent.
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