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Name: Donna
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Question:
Does anyone have any information about prions? My genetics professor mentioned them in class but there is no information about them in our textbooks. All I know about them is that they seem to be capable of replication but have no nucleic acid - only proteins. Theyhave been associated with such diseases as Kuru, Mad Cow Disease, and Scrapie, and may also be involved in Alzeimers. Any more information would be helpful. Thanks!



Replies:
Okay, that's a hard one, since they're still working on prions at present, and I can't say for sure why they do what they do, but I can advance a few of my own theories, and hopefully that may suffice (until some molecular biologist, biochemist, epidemiologist, or virologist logs on and says I'm full of it...) Prions are indeed composed of protein, but are in the form of a particle like a virus. Proteins can actually directly affect DNA by binding to sections of the genetic code and blocking the replication of DNA, transcription of genes into RNA, and they can also (depending on the protein, of course..) act as enzymes upon cellular contents. Therefore, prions may act either by affecting the internal regulation of genetic expression or by changing the composition of the cellular contents, causing either mutation, failure to synthesize necessary compounds, or cleavage of existing compounds within the cells affected (neurons, for example, in the case of kuru).

--Wordsworth



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