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Good for Something: Prion protein maintains stem cells

The same protein that, in an altered shape, causes mad cow disease and other neurodegenerative disorders maintains the body's cache of blood-producing stem cells, a new study suggests.

Called the prion protein, or PrP, it's scattered throughout the body in mammals. When, in rare occurrences, PrP becomes misshapen, it causes neurodegenerative diseases in cows (SN: 1/10/04, p. 19: Cow Madness: Disease's U.S. emergence highlights role of feed ban), deer (SN: 1/28/06, p. 52: Available to subscribers at Hunter Beware: Infectious proteins found in deer muscle), people (SN: 10/4/97, p. 212: http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/sn_arc97/10_4_97/fob1.htm), and other species. However, researchers haven't been sure what function the normal protein performs.

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