Replication and spread of CJD, kuru and scrapie agents in vivo and in cell culture

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Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) agents are defined by their virulence for particular species, their spread in the population, their incubation time to cause disease, and their neuropathological sequelae. Murine adapted human agents, including sporadic CJD (sCJD), New Guinea kuru, and Japanese CJD agents, display particularly distinct incubation times and maximal infectious brain titers. They also induce agent-specific patterns of neurodegeneration. When these TSE agents are transmitted to cultured hypothalamic GT1 cells they maintain their unique identities. Nevertheless, the human kuru (kCJD) and Japanese FU-CJD agents, as well as the sheep 22L and 263K scrapie agents display doubling times that are 8x to 33x faster in cells than in brain, indicating release from complex innate immune responses. These data are most consistent with a foreign viral structure, rather than an infectious form of host prion protein (PrP-res). Profound agent-specific inhibitory effects are also apparent in GT1 cells, and maximal titer plateau in kCJD and FU-CJD differed by 1,000-fold in a cell-based assay. Remarkably, the lower titer kCJD agent rapidly induced de novo PrP-res in GT1 cells, whereas the high titer FU-CJD agent replicated silently for multiple passages. Although PrP-res is often considered to be toxic, PrP-res instead may be part of a primal defense and/or clearance mechanism against TSE environmental agents. Limited spread of particular TSE agents through nanotubes and cell-to-cell contacts probably underlies the long peripheral phase of human CJD.

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