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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Dec 10;99 Suppl 4:16378-83. Epub 2002 Aug 14.

Transmission of prions.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Prion Unit, Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.


The "protein only" hypothesis states that the infectious agent causing transmissible spongiform encephalopathies is a conformational isomer of PrP, a host protein predominantly expressed in brain, and is strongly supported by many lines of evidence. Prion diseases are so far unique among conformational diseases in that they are transmissible, not only experimentally but also by natural routes, mainly by ingestion. A striking feature of prions is their extraordinary resistance to conventional sterilization procedures, and their capacity to bind to surfaces of metal and plastic without losing infectivity. This property, first observed in a clinical setting, is now being investigated in experimental settings, both in animals and in cell culture.

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