B Cells May Propagate Prions

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Science  19 Dec 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5346, pp. 2050
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5346.2050

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The uncertainty about what causes "mad cow disease" and related neurodegenerative conditions hasn't kept researchers from wondering how the agents that cause these diseases spread from the site of infection to the brain. New work now suggests that B cells, a type of immune cell carried in the blood, play an important role in this propagation. In this week's issue of Nature, a research team reports that mice lacking B cells are resistant to infection with scrapie, a sheep condition similar to mad cow disease, when they are inoculated with infectious material in areas outside the brain. If B cells are necessary for the disease to propagate, the authors reason, they may also carry the infectious agent.