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Prions more mobile than thought

Disease agents can jump from one species to another

2:46pm, January 26, 2012

The protein-based pathogens known as prions may pass between different species more easily than has been thought, a team of French researchers reports in the Jan. 27 Science. By infecting engineered mice with prions from cows and goats, scientists also have shown that the invaders readily target tissues other than the brain.

“We may underestimate the threat posed by some of these diseases by focusing only on the brain,” says Pierluigi Gambetti, a prion researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “It adds a new element to the equation.”

The research also raises the possibility that new prion strains recently identified in cattle and small rodents might be able to jump to other species, including humans.

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