A Conversation for Prions
_prion_ Started conversation Apr 30, 2005
I did my PhD in prion research and think the entry is good, I just couldn't resist some minor nitpicks!
My first nitpick is that in this entry, all the credit for past prion research goes to Stanley Prusiner (as it usually does). Fair enough, he did get the Nobel Prize for discovering the protein and gene involved. But the entry says it was Prusiner who proposed prions "consisted of a protein and nothing more" and that this was heresy at the time. The 'protein-only hypothesis' was in fact proposed by Alper and also by Griffith, each in 'Nature' in 1967, and by Pattison (1967, in 'Veterinary Records' I think) who said there could be "a new class of replicating particle...probably proteinacaeous and devoid of nucleic acid". And it was Griffith (still 1967) who suggested the abnormal protein could template the rearrangement of existing, normal molecules of the protein.
It also says that "research [Prusiner] carried out indicated that no genetic material...was involved". It was actually Alper who published this result in Nature in 1967.
No intention to dis Prusiner or his team, it's just that Nobel Prizes are awarded for discovery and not theory and so I think some of the guys who suggested the idea deserve more credit.
The entry says "prions are suspected of causing...multiple sclerosis, Huntington's chorea and Alper's syndrome" - I have never heard of this and I'm guessing it's speculation dating from quite a while ago - I'm not really comfortable with this being in the entry.
Also it says "when normal PrP is mixed in a test tube with PrPSc, it changes to PrPSc". This is not quite true, prions can't be made in a test tube and no-one knows why, it's kind of the holy grail of prion research. (Though actually it does work with the yeast 'prions' but they are a totally different thing altogether - it is a different protein and the phenomenon is an evolved response and has a function.) If you mix normal PrP with PrPSc then the PrP develops some structural features like PrPSc but it is not the same thing because it's not infectious and does not cause disease.
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