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Prion protein PrP nucleic acid binding and mobilization implicate retroelements as the replicative component of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535–556
JournalArchives of Virology
Early online date5 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


The existence of more than 30 strains of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) and the paucity of infectivity of purified PrPSc, as well as considerations of PrP structure, are inconsistent with the protein-only (prion) theory of TSE. Nucleic acid is a strong contender as a second component. We juxtapose two key findings: (i) PrP is a nucleic-acid-binding antimicrobial protein that is similar to retroviral Gag proteins in its ability to trigger reverse transcription. (ii) Retroelement mobilization is widely seen in TSE disease. Given further evidence that PrP also mediates nucleic acid transport into and out of the cell, a strong case is to be made that a second element – retroelement nucleic acid – bound to PrP constitutes the second component necessary to explain the multiple strains of TSE.

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