Grass Plants Can Transport Infectious Prions; May Help Explain Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer, Elk, and Moose Across 22 States in United States

Grass plants can bind, uptake, and transport infectious prions, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The research was published online on May 14, 2015 in an open-access article in Cell Reports. Prions are the protein-based infectious agents responsible for a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, which includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, elk, and moose. All are fatal brain diseases with incubation periods that last years. CWD, first diagnosed in mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s, has spread across the country into 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the counties of El Paso and Hudspeth in Texas. In northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, the disease is endemic. Dr. Claudio Soto's team sought to find out why. "There is no proof of transmission from wild animals and plants to humans," said lead author Claudio Soto, Ph.D., Professor of Neurology at UTHealth Medical School and Director of the UTHealth George and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Brain-Related Illnesses. "But it's a possibility that needs to be explored and people need to be aware of it. Prions have a long incubation period." Dr. Soto's team analyzed the retention of infectious prion protein and infectivity in wheat grass roots and leaves incubated with prion-contaminated brain material and discovered that even highly diluted amounts can bind to the roots and leaves. When the wheat grass was consumed by hamsters, the animals were infected with the disease.
Login Or Register To Read Full Story