Reminder: Clicking on the picture will take you to the site where I originally found it.
A prion is a fancy name for a protein capable of causing disease. The term was invented by Dr. Stanley Prusiner, who dubbed these protinaceous-infectious particles, which would abbreviate as pro-ins, but the vowels got swapped 'cause it sounds better.
Around 1980, Dr. Prusiner was investigating diseases where the cause wasn't known. Through a series of tests, he concluded that the cause of the disease wasn't a virus or bacterium. The infectious particle was a protein.
This was a startling discovery. Scientists didn't think anything less sophisticated than bacteria or viruses could cause disease. Dr. Prusiner went on to show how this could be accomplished.
Protiens are made from a string of amino acids. These fold and bend on themselves until they form a specific shape. Prions have two possible shapes. The first is a spiral. This is the common form, and all of us have these types of prions. The second type zig-zags. It is sturdier than the spiral, and once it is formed, it won't go back. This is the disease-causing type.
If one of these bad prions contact a good prion, it warps it into the pleated shape. Now we have two bad prions. This is how they replicate. These pleated sheets can interfere with brain activities, resulting in a degeneration of everything the brain is responsible for. Movement, thinking and eventually the processes of life are halted.
For his research, Dr. Prusiner won the Nobel Prize in 1997. Through his and others work, a number diseases have been identified which may be the result of prion activity:
All prion diseases are known as TSEs, or (take a deep breath) transmissable spongiform encephalopathies. In English, this means that the diseases leave the brain looking like a sponge - full of holes. Take a look at the picture. That's human brain tissue. Normally, it should look like a solid sheet, but you can actually see the holes. This is from prion activity.
In college, I did a paper on prions. It's a little technical, but I tried to make it clear enough to not lose anyone. It is accessable
All I ask is that you don't use this paper for evil. And I'm not referring to creating an army of prion-infected mutant mice (already been done by Prusiner and Cohen), but I'm referring to swiping my paper.
Go to the virus page or
return to the overview.