Prions: A Lone Killer or a Vital Accomplice?

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Science  22 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5440, pp. 660-662
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5440.660

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TÜBINGEN, GERMANY-- Britain's bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow disease," crisis has fueled an explosion of research into variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease--a fatal neurodegenerative disorder linked to eating beef from cattle infected with BSE--and similar fatal brain diseases linked to prions, aberrant forms of a normal cellular protein called PrP. At the largest ever meeting of prion disease researchers here last month, talks revealed important new insights into how prions make their way through the body to the brain and provided strong evidence that immune system cells are conduits for the spread of infection--a disquieting conclusion that may nevertheless hold the key to therapeutic strategies. But there is still no consensus on whether this mysterious disease agent is acting alone.