Topics in Current Chemistry Volume 305, 2011, pp 23-50

Atypical Prion Diseases in Humans and Animals

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Abstract

Although prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) in humans and scrapie in sheep, have long been recognized, our understanding of their epidemiology and pathogenesis is still in its early stages. Progress is hampered by the lengthy incubation periods and the lack of effective ways of monitoring and characterizing these agents. Protease-resistant conformers of the prion protein (PrP), known as the “scrapie form” (PrPSc), are used as disease markers, and for taxonomic purposes, in correlation with clinical, pathological, and genetic data. In humans, prion diseases can arise sporadically (sCJD) or genetically (gCJD and others), caused by mutations in the PrP-gene (PRNP), or as a foodborne infection, with the agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) causing variant CJD (vCJD). Person-to-person spread of human prion disease has only been known to occur following cannibalism (kuru disease in Papua New Guinea) or through medical or surgical treatment (iatrogenic CJD, iCJD). In contrast, scrapie in small ruminants and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in cervids behave as infectious diseases within these species. Recently, however, so-called atypical forms of prion diseases have been discovered in sheep (atypical/Nor98 scrapie) and in cattle, BSE-H and BSE-L. These maladies resemble sporadic or genetic human prion diseases and might be their animal equivalents. This hypothesis also raises the significant public health question of possible epidemiological links between these diseases and their counterparts in humans.