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Medical News and Perspectives
January 19, 2005

Infectious Prions Hitch Ride on Ferritin

JAMA. 2005;293(3):285. doi:10.1001/jama.293.3.285

Pathologists have uncovered a potential clue into the mechanism by which infectious prions cross the human intestinal epithelial barrier and have illuminated how individuals consuming prion-tainted beef develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow” disease).

A new study shows that infectious prion proteins are able to avoid degradation by digestive enzymes found in the stomach and can cross the intestinal lining by piggybacking on ferritin, a protein normally absorbed by the intestine and abundant in most meat. The study appears in the December 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience (http://www.jneurosci.org/).

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