Rapid Assay Detects Infectious Prion Proteins

New method shows results in two to three days and is more sensitive than other assays

MONDAY, July 23 (HealthDay News) -- A new assay method can detect infectious prion proteins in microliter amounts of cerebrospinal fluid with greater speed and sensitivity than other assay methods, according to a report published online July 22 in Nature Methods.

Byron Caughey, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health's Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases in Hamilton, Mont., and colleagues developed an assay that uses recombinant protein instead of whole brain tissue as a substrate for the protein aggregation reaction triggered by prions.

The researchers found that the assay detected at least 50 ag of the hamster scrapie prion protein isoform, PrPSc, within two to three days. Other assays require several weeks to show results, with lower sensitivity.

"Such an assay could be used to identify sources of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy infection in agriculture and the environment to reduce risks to humans and animals," the authors write. "Moreover, the ability to diagnose infections in humans long before the appearance of clinical signs would greatly improve the chances of treating these otherwise fatal diseases."

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