Mice engineered with vole protein suffer disorders that don’t usually infect them
Prion diseases, the frightening neuron-killing disorders that transmit via infectious proteins rather than by viruses or bacteria, rarely jump from one species to another. But just a few amino acids can tear down the barriers that stop one animal from contracting another species’ prion disease.
Bank voles are particularly susceptible to the infectious brain-wasting diseases. That susceptibility stems from the structure of one of the vole’s brain proteins, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco report April 3 in PLOS Pathogens.
Prion diseases include mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in deer and several degenerative brain diseases in people, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. They result when a normal brain protein called PrP twists into an abnormal shape known as a prion and remakes other PrP proteins in its disease-causing