Monday, February 21, 2011

Can Chronic Wasting Disease Jump to Man?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal disease of deer and elk, caused by a prion, similar to Mad Cow Disease in cows, and rarely, man. To date, no evidence has suggested that the CWD prion can infect man, which is a good thing because deer and elk are tasty critters, and the prevalence of CWD in some areas of the American West are quite substantial, up to 30%. Now, scientists report that after serial passages in other animal hosts or in laboratory culture, the CWD prion can induce the misfolded protein that causes the disease in human proteins.

Prion diseases are biological oddities, an infectious disease not caused by a bacteria or a virus, but rather a misfolded form of a common protein called PrPc into a more stable form PrPsc which catalytically induces the misfolding of even more copies of the protein.  Prions cause scrapie in sheep, mad cow disease in bovines, CWD in deer and elk, and Cruetzlfeldt-Jakob disease/Kuru in man. CWD is especially scary because it is highly infective, and remains in the environment for a long time.  We don' t need a new prion disease.

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