[Basic research on BSE transmission to people]

W Bodemer, F J Kaup
DTW. Deutsche Tierärztliche Wochenschrift 2002, 109 (8): 338-41
Prion diseases of animal and man belong to neurological diseases with amyloidal deposition of the respective proteins. As to prion disease, the cellular prionprotein is in its abnormal isoform(s) an essential component of prionprotein aggregates found in affected tissue. In contrast to all neurodegenerative diseases like Morbus Alzheimer or Huntington's disease, prion diseases are transmissible. Therefore, prion diseases were designated Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE). The diseases are well known since decades. Scrapie was first described around 1750, a BSE case was reported in the 1850, most likely a misdiagnosis, and in 1920/1930 the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) had been described. Transmission of CJD i.e. Kuru had been suspected in the early 1950s and erronously classified as slow virus disease. The CJD transmission posed a problem to humans when transplants from CJD cases were used for treatment. Fortunately, these iatrogenic transmissions remained limited. But with the advent of BSE and appearance of variant CJD cases in the UK and some places in Europe scientists suspected that transmission from cattle to man could have happened. From animal models we know of successful transmission via several routes. Species barriers do not completely prevent transmission. Rather transmission barriers might exist controlling individual susceptibility against prions. Modes of transmission, susceptibility for transmission, identification of receptor molecules as well as molecular mechanisms of the transmission process are intensely investigated. Current knowledge let us to assume that inapparent stages of prion infection pretend a (not existing) species barrier. This inapparent infection preceeds overt disease and, thus, most re-search focuses on the development of highly sensitive assay systems for detection of minute amounts of pathological prionprotein in suspected cases. Inapparence also should warn us to underestimate BSE or human vCJD cases; at present, 124 in Europe and one probable case in Hongkong (7 March 2002). Whether BSE had spread to other parts of the world by animal nutrition components or meat can neither be excluded nor confirmed at this time. New data on transmission and consequences of BSE for the human population are summarized in this review.

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