FRIDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers have discovered a new form of prion disease that doesn't act like related illnesses, such as mad cow disease, but instead causes brain damage similar to that produced by Alzheimer's disease.
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It is not yet clear what the finding may mean for humans because the disease was found in mice, the study authors noted in the report published online March 5 in PLoS Pathogens.
However, the disease does seem to be similar to two newly reported cases of the prion disease known as Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome, according to the researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Prion diseases cause a number of unusual killer diseases, including mad cow disease, sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and a kind of fatal insomnia, according to background information in a news release from NIAID.
In the new study, the researchers examined mice that were genetically engineered to process prion proteins in a unique way. Then they exposed them to a prion disease known as scrapie.
The mice didn't develop holes in the brain like those typically caused by prion diseases. Instead, they developed plaques that resembled a form of human Alzheimer's disease.
The study authors hope they can find a way to treat the new form of the prion disease and then use it to treat Alzheimer's disease in people.
-- Randy Dotinga
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SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, news release, March 4, 2010