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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Genetics of prions.

Prions are unprecedented infectious pathogens that cause a group of invariably fatal, neurodegenerative diseases by an entirely novel mechanism. Prion diseases may present as genetic, infectious, or sporadic disorders, all of which involve modification of the prion protein ( PrP). The human prion disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) generally presents as a progressive dementia, whereas scrapie of sheep and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are manifest as ataxic illnesses. Prions are devoid of nucleic acid and seem to be composed exclusively of a modified isoform of PrP designated PrPSc. The normal, cellular PrP designated PrPC is converted into PrPSc through a process whereby some of its alpha-helical structure is converted into beta-sheet. The species of a particular prion is encoded by the sequence of the chromosomal PrP gene of the mammals in which it last replicated. In contrast to pathogens with a nucleic acid genome, prions encipher strain-specific properties in the tertiary structure of PrPSc. Transgenetic studies argue that PrPSc acts as a template upon which PrPC is refolded into a nascent PrPSc molecule through a process facilitated by another protein.[1]


  1. Genetics of prions. Prusiner, S.B., Scott, M.R. Annu. Rev. Genet. (1997) [Pubmed]
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