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FEBS J. 2007 Feb;274(3):588-605.

The spread of prions through the body in naturally acquired transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

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Robert Koch-Institut (P24 - Transmissible Spongiforme Enzephalopathien), Berlin, Germany.


Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are fatal neurodegenerative diseases that are caused by unconventional pathogens and affect the central nervous system of animals and humans. Several different forms of these diseases result from natural infection (i.e. exposure to transmissible spongiform encephalopathy agents or prions, present in the natural environment of the respective host). This holds true also for scrapie in sheep, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle, chronic wasting disease in elk and deer, or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, all of which are assumed to originate predominantly from peroral prion infection. This article intends to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge on the spread of scrapie, chronic wasting disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease agents through the body in naturally affected hosts, and in model animals experimentally challenged via the alimentary tract. Special attention is given to the tissue components and spreading pathways involved in the key stages of prion routing through the body, such as intestinal uptake, neuroinvasion of nerves and the central nervous system, and centrifugal spread from the brain and spinal cord to peripheral sites (e.g. sensory ganglia or muscles). The elucidation of the pathways and mechanisms by which prions invade a host and spread through the organism can contribute to efficient infection control strategies and the improvement of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy diagnostics. It may also help to identify prophylactic or therapeutic approaches that would impede naturally acquired transmissible spongiform encephalopathy infections.

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