A breakthrough in the treatment of prion diseases could be on the anvil with the identification of a chemical that could block propagation of prions.
Prions are unconventional pathogens composed of infectious protein particles and resistant to conventional sterilization procedures. Presently there is no known agent or procedure that can halt or reverse damage caused by a prion disease. Major prion diseases include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow" disease) in cattle.
Chongsuk Ryou, researcher at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and his team has demonstrated that polymers of amino acid lysine (polylysines) are able to block propagation of prions by targeting plasminogen - a substance that stimulates the multiplication of prions. In test tubes and cultured cells, polylysines halted the spread of prions.
Furthermore, in an animal model of prion disease, mice treated with polylysines displayed symptoms later, survived longer and showed lower levels of prions in their brains than did untreated mice.
"Our study suggests that polylysine is a potential anti-prion agent and validates plasminogen as a therapeutic target to combat prion disease," said Chongsuk Ryou, who is also the professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics in the UK College of Medicine.
Ryou's research appears in the latest issue of the journal Biomaterials.