Molecular biology of prion diseases

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Science  14 Jun 1991:
Vol. 252, Issue 5012, pp. 1515-1522
DOI: 10.1126/science.1675487


Prions cause transmissible and genetic neurodegenerative diseases, including scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy of animals and Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker diseases of humans. Infectious prion particles are composed largely, if not entirely, of an abnormal isoform of the prion protein, which is encoded by a chromosomal gene. A posttranslational process, as yet unidentified, converts the cellular prion protein into an abnormal isoform. Scrapie incubation times, neuropathology, and prion synthesis in transgenic mice are controlled by the prion protein gene. Point mutations in the prion protein genes of animals and humans are genetically linked to development of neuro-degeneration. Transgenic mice expressing mutant prion proteins spontaneously develop neurologic dysfunction and spongiform neuropathology. Understanding prion diseases may advance investigations of other neurodegenerative disorders and of the processes by which neurons differentiate, function for decades, and then grow senescent.

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