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Thursday, February 1st 2007

Prions Are So Yesterday

Is vCJD caused by a virus we just haven’t identified? The idea of one researcher is that the misfolded proteins currently thought of as the causative agents for these spongiform encephalopathies are actually part of the consequence of the disease.

The prion theory of mad cow disease proposes that a normal protein spontaneously misfolds, starting a cascade of abnormal changes in other proteins.

In Manuelidis’ previous experiments, prions did not appear until late in the progression of spongy brain diseases.

He cites evidence of ‘particles’ of viruses in mouse models of these types of diseases as evidence that some unknown virus is the real bad guy here.

Researchers reported that they found virus-like particles in mouse nerve cells infected with two brain-wasting diseases similar to mad cow disease, but found no traces of the particles in uninfected cells.

“We found something that people have been ignoring,” Manuelidis said of the virus particles. “What we hypothesize is the simplest, most parsimonious point of view.”

Several brain researchers were skeptical about Manuelidis’ findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s very remarkable that we only see these particles after infection of these cells,” said Bob Rohwer, director of the Molecular Neurovirology Laboratory at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore, who was not involved in the study. “But the evidence that they are in fact the infectious agent responsible is still highly circumstantial.”

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