A General Model of Prion Strains and Their Pathogenicity

Science  09 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5852, pp. 930-936
DOI: 10.1126/science.1138718

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Prions are lethal mammalian pathogens composed of aggregated conformational isomers of a host-encoded glycoprotein and which appear to lack nucleic acids. Their unique biology, allied with the public-health risks posed by prion zoonoses such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has focused much attention on the molecular basis of prion propagation and the “species barrier” that controls cross-species transmission. Both are intimately linked to understanding how multiple prion “strains” are encoded by a protein-only agent. The underlying mechanisms are clearly of much wider importance, and analogous protein-based inheritance mechanisms are recognized in yeast and fungi. Recent advances suggest that prions themselves are not directly neurotoxic, but rather their propagation involves production of toxic species, which may be uncoupled from infectivity.

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