Although the infectious prions causing scrapie and several human transmissible neurodegenerative diseases resemble viruses in many respects, molecular and genetic analyses indicate that prions are fundamentally different from viruses in their structure and the mechanisms by which they cause disease. The only macromolecule that has been identified in infectious prion preparations is a disease-specific isoform of the prion protein, which is encoded by a host gene. A growing body of data supports the contention that prion infections represent a novel host-pathogen interaction.
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This work was supported by research grants (AG02132, NS14606 and GM37821) and a Senator Jacob Javits Center of Excellence in Neuroscience award from the NIH.