Adding to the paradox of prion diseases, Dartmouth Medical School researchers have discovered that RNA plays a role in converting a normal prion protein into a mutant that leads to mad cow disease and other fatal brain illnesses.
Their study, reported in the Oct. 16 issue of Nature, provides important clues to understanding the role of prions, unorthodox infectious agents whose ability to transmit disease has confounded physicians and scientists. The work, by Dr. Surachai Supattapone, assistant professor of biochemistry and of medicine, opens new avenues of exploration for diagnosis and treatment of a perplexing group of neurodegenerative disorders called prion diseases.
Prions lack RNA or DNA, the nucleic acids that contain genetic information to replicate. No one knows what spurs conversion of a normal prion protein to a disease-causing counterpart. Supattapone, with coauthors Nathan Deleault and Ralf Lucassen, has discovered that RNA may be a catalyst for transformation.
Hali Wickner | EurekAlert!
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