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Scientists Find New Prion Protein

Canadian and U.S. scientists have discovered a new protein that may offer insights into brain function in BSE, according to research published recently in the EMBO Journal of the European Molecular Biology Organization.

"Our team has defined a second prion protein called Shadoo that exists in addition to the well-known prion protein called PrP," according to David Westaway, director of the Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases at the University of Alberta.

For decades, Westaway says, scientists believed PrP was a unique nerve protein that folded into an abnormal shape and caused prion disease. "This view is no longer accurate," he says.

As the PrP molecule alters shape and accumulates in a prion-affected brain, the Shadoo protein disappears, according to Joel Watts, lead author and a graduate student at the University of Toronto's Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases. Since proteins in a living cell are the molecules that do the work, this is likely to be significant, he says.

-- Burt Rutherford