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Prion Disease in Mice May Help Advance Alzheimer's Research

Study uncovers new form of infectious brain illness

FRIDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers have discovered a new form of prion disease that doesn't act like related illnesses, such as mad cow disease, but instead causes brain damage similar to that produced by Alzheimer's disease.

It is not yet clear what the finding may mean for humans because the disease was found in mice, the study authors noted in the report published online March 5 in PLoS Pathogens.

However, the disease does seem to be similar to two newly reported cases of the prion disease known as Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome, according to the researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Prion diseases cause a number of unusual killer diseases, including mad cow disease, sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and a kind of fatal insomnia, according to background information in a news release from NIAID.

In the new study, the researchers examined mice that were genetically engineered to process prion proteins in a unique way. Then they exposed them to a prion disease known as scrapie.

The mice didn't develop holes in the brain like those typically caused by prion diseases. Instead, they developed plaques that resembled a form of human Alzheimer's disease.

The study authors hope they can find a way to treat the new form of the prion disease and then use it to treat Alzheimer's disease in people.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more on prion diseases.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, news release, March 4, 2010

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