What is a prion?
March 7, 2007 7:08am CST
Prion is an infectious protein. Unlike a virus or a microbe, it has no nucleic acids in it - no DNA or RNA! One of the most famouse diseases it causes is "the mad cow disease" which is a variant of the Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. We have lots of prions in our body (cows, sheeps, cats, dogs and other mammals has also). A mutation causes this protein to fold in a certain way that makes it resilient to all sorts of catabolic (destroying) proteins - which are part of the system's recycling mechanism. Because of that, the protein fills the cells so much, the cells die eventualy. A big problem is - that the infection happens when a mutated protein meets a good one. The mutated one causes the good one to fold like it, and now we have two bad proteins that can convert others... The disease has a major effect over our minds because prions are very abundent in our brains. We face a bigger problem - it passes the species barrier. If a cow is infected, and a man eats the cow, we now have a man with "the mad cow disease", although in humans it is called vCJD (Variant Kreutzfeld-Jakob diseas). At the moment we have no cure for this kind of pathogen, and not many ways to destroy it because of it's resilience.