News of the WeekPRION RESEARCH

Getting Yeast Prions to Bridge the Species Gap

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Science  09 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5510, pp. 1881
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5510.1881

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Both the sheep disease scrapie and the strikingly similar "mad cow disease" are almost certainly transmitted by an abnormally folded form of a protein, known as a prion. But only mad cow disease has crossed the species barrier into humans, and researchers have been trying to figure out why. Work with yeast prions reported in the 8 March issue of Nature now indicates that this species barrier can be overcome if the prion protein can adopt multiple structures that interact with prion proteins from more than one species. If something similar happens with the prion that causes mad cow disease, it might explain how it is able to cause disease in humans as well as cattle.