How independent are TSE agents from their hosts?

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Central to understanding the nature of TSE agents (or prions) is how their genetic information is distinguished from the host. Are TSEs truly infectious diseases with host-independent genomes, or are they aberrations of a host component derived from the host genome? Recent experiments tested whether glycosylation of host PrP affects TSE strain characteristics. Wild-type mice were infected with 3 TSE strains passaged through transgenic mice with PrP devoid of glycans at 1 or both N-glycosylation sites. Strainspecific characteristics of one TSE strain changed but did not change for 2 others. Changes resulted from the selection of mutant TSE strains in a novel replicative environment. In general the properties of established TSEs support the genetic independence of TSE agents from the host, and specifically the primary structure of PrP does not directly encode TSE agent properties. However sporadic TSEs challenge this independency. The prion hypothesis explains emerging TSEs relatively successfully but poorly accounts for the diversity and mutability of established TSE strains, or how many different infectious conformations are sustained thermodynamically. Research on early changes in RNA expression and events at the ribosome may inform the debate on TSE agent properties and their interaction with host cell machinery.

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