Potential retroviral RNAs in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.


The molecular nature of the related infectious agents that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and scrapie is poorly understood, and an agent-specific nucleic acid genome has not yet been identified. Several biological manifestations of these agents resemble those seen in retrovirus-induced diseases. We therefore attempted to identify an agent-specific retrovirus-like RNA transcript in CJD infectious fractions. A series of synthetic oligonucleotides complementary to known mammalian retroviral primer binding sites were used in a primer extension assay. Substrate nucleic acids isolated from partially purified hamster brain CJD infectious fractions and from parallel normal brain fractions were compared with total starting brain RNA. This sensitive exogenous strong-stop reaction revealed that CJD infectious fractions contained a series of potential retroviral RNAs including apparent transcripts of endogenous hamster IAP genes. Most transcripts selectively recovered in the fractions were substantially protected from micrococcal nuclease digestion, and at least one substrate RNA, consistent with an intracisternal A particle, was packaged in a form that had the same buoyant density as CJD infectivity. Although a completely CJD-specific transcript was not identified, the copurification of potential retroviral transcripts with CJD infectivity suggests that models of disease involving retrovirus-like nucleic acid elements deserve further consideration.

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