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Scripps Florida scientists show 'lifeless' prions capable of evolutionary change and adaptation
Date:12/31/2009

targets for prion disease. Instead of developing drugs to target abnormal proteins, it could be more efficient to try to limit the supply of normally produced prions in essence, reducing the amount of fuel being fed into the fire. Weissmann and his colleagues have shown some 15 years ago that genetically engineered mice devoid of the normal prion protein develop and function quite normally (and are resistant to prion disease!).

"It will likely be very difficult to inhibit the production of a specific natural protein pharmacologically," Weissmann said, "You may end up interfering with some other critical physiological process, but nonetheless, finding a way to inhibit the production of normal prion protein is a project currently being pursued in collaboration with Scripps Florida Professor Corinne Lasmezas in our department."

Quasi-Species

Another implication of the findings, according to the study, is that drug-resistant variants either exist in the prion population at a low level prior to exposure or are generated during exposure to the drug. Indeed, the researchers found some prions secreted by infected cells were resistant to the drug before exposure, but only at levels less than one percent.

The scientists show that prion variants constantly arise in a particular population. These variants, or "mutants", are believed to differ in the way the prion protein is folded. As a consequence, prion populations are, in fact, comprised of multiple sub-strains.

This, Weissmann noted, is reminiscent of something he helped define some 30 years ago the evolutionary concept of quasi-species. The idea was first conceived by Manfred Eigen, a German biophysicist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1967. Basically stated, a quasi-species is a complex, self-perpetuating population of diverse and related entities that act as a whole. It was Weissmann, however, who provided the first confirmation of the theory through the stu
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Contact: Keith McKeown
kmckeown@scripps.edu
858-784-8134
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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