Prion Protein causing BSE present in Milk

Monday 12 February 2007

Prions are known to cause transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) after accumulation in the central nervous system. There is increasing evidence that prions are also present in body fluids and that prion infection by blood transmission is possible. The low concentration of the proteinaceous agent in body fluids and its long incubation time complicate epidemiologic analysis and estimation of spreading and thus the risk of human infection. This situation is particularly unsatisfactory for food and pharmaceutical industries, given the lack of sensitive tools for monitoring the infectious agent.

Methodology/Principal Findings
We have developed an adsorption matrix, Alicon PrioTrap®, which binds with high affinity and specificity to prion proteins. Thus we were able to identify prion protein (PrPC)–the precursor of prions (PrPSc)–in milk from humans, cows, sheep, and goats. The absolute amount of PrPC differs between the species (from µg/l range in sheep to ng/l range in human milk). PrPC is also found in homogenised and pasteurised off-the-shelf milk, and even ultrahigh temperature treatment only partially diminishes endogenous PrPC concentration.

In view of a recent study showing evidence of prion replication occurring in the mammary gland of scrapie infected sheep suffering from mastitis, the appearance of PrPC in milk implies the possibility that milk of TSE-infected animals serves as source for PrPSc.

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