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Unraveling the 'Mad Cow' Mystery

Key molecule identified by researchers

FRIDAY, Nov. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers may be moving closer to better treatments for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, and the related condition called Creutzfeldt Jakob disease.

A protein called Glypican-1 is crucial to the development of mad cow disease, researchers from England now report, and understanding its role could help scientists figure out how to stop the illness from progressing.

The findings were published Nov. 20 in the journal PLoS Pathogens..

Abnormal forms of proteins known as prions cause mad cow disease, a killer infection that causes neurological problems. It hasn't been clear, however, why the proteins go awry.

The researchers found that the presence of the Glypican-1 protein boosts the number of abnormal prion proteins.

"We were looking at how the normal prion protein functions in cells and spotted that it was interacting with something," Nigel Hooper, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Leeds, who participated in the research, said in a statement. "Some lateral thinking and deduction led us to Glypican-1, and when we carried out the experiment, we found we were right."

Hooper added: "Now that we know the identity of one of the key molecules in the disease process, we may in the future be able to design drugs that target this."

More information

Learn more about mad cow disease from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Public Library of Science, news release, Nov. 19, 2009

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