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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Aug 15, 1993; 90(16): 7724–7728.

A transmissible Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease-like agent is prevalent in the human population.


The etiology of most human dementias is unknown. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a relatively uncommon human dementia, is caused by a transmissible virus-like agent. Molecular markers that are specific for the agent have not yet been defined. However, the infectious disease can be transmitted to rodents from both brain and infected buffy coat (blood) samples. To determine whether human CJD infections are more widespread than is apparent from the low incidence of neurological disease, we attempted to transmit CJD from buffy coat samples of 30 healthy volunteers who had no family history of dementing illness. Primary transmissions from 26 of 30 individuals produced CJD-like spongiform changes in the brains of recipient hamsters at 200-500 days postinoculation. This positive evidence of viremia was found for individuals in all age groups (20-30, 40-50, and 61-71 years old), whereas 12 negatively scored brain samples failed to produce similar changes in hamsters observed for > 900 days in the same setting. We suggest that a CJD agent endemically infects humans but only infrequently produces an infectious dementia. Disease expression is likely to be influenced by several host factors in combination with viral variants that have altered neurovirulence.

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