The researchers, Giovanna Mallucci and colleagues, reported their findings in the February 1, 2007 issue of the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press.
Prion disease—such as the version of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease believed to be contracted from cattle with "mad cow disease"—is caused by aberrant, infective proteins. It has been thought that the disease is untreatable.
However, in previous studies with prion-infected mice, Mallucci and colleagues found that early brain degeneration can be reversed if prions are depleted in neurons.
In the new studies published in Neuron, they established that cognitive and behavioral impairments—which appear early in humans with prion disease—can be reversed if prion depletion is done early. What’s more, they found that the neurological pathology of the disease is reversed along with the cognitive and behavioral deficits.
In their studies, the researchers measured the effects of prion disease on the animals?ability to discriminate novel objects in their cage and on normal burrowing behavior. In both cases, deficits in those abilities appeared early in the disease. Also, studies of the animals?brain tissue revealed a parallel impairment of signaling among brain cells.
However, when the researchers manipulated the animals to deplete their brains of the prion protein, their memory ability and burrowing behavior recovered. Importantly, found the researchers, the signaling among brain cells also recovered.
"Overall, we conclude that the dramatic benefits