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/).
Hampton T. Infectious Prions Hitch Ride on Ferritin. JAMA. 2005;293(3):285. doi:10.1001/jama.293.3.285