A brief history of prions

    loading  Checking for direct PDF access through Ovid


Proteins were described as distinct biological molecules and their significance in cellular processes was recognized as early as the 18th century. At the same time, Spanish shepherds observed a disease that compelled their Merino sheep to pathologically scrape against fences, a defining clinical sign that led to the disease being named scrapie. In the late 19th century, Robert Koch published his postulates for defining causative agents of disease. In the early 20th century, pathologists Creutzfeldt and Jakob described a neurodegenerative disease that would later be included with scrapie into a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Later that century, mounting evidence compelled a handful of scientists to betray the prevailing biological dogma governing pathogen replication that Watson and Crick so convincingly explained by cracking the genetic code just two decades earlier. Because TSEs seemed to defy these new rules, J.S. Griffith theorized mechanisms by which a pathogenic protein could encipher its own replication blueprint without a genetic code. Stanley Prusiner called this proteinaceous infectious pathogen a prion. Here we offer a concise account of the discovery of prions, the causative agent of TSEs, in the wider context of protein biochemistry and infectious disease. We highlight the discovery of prions in yeast and discuss the implication of prions as epigenomic carriers of biological and pathological information. We also consider expanding the prion hypothesis to include other proteins whose alternate isoforms confer new biological or pathological properties.

    loading  Loading Related Articles