Viral particles are required for infection in neurodegenerative Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Several models have been proposed for the infectious agents that cause human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and sheep scrapie. Purified proteins and extracted nucleic acids are not infectious. To further identify the critical molecular components of the CJD agent, 120S infectious material with reduced prion protein (PrP) was treated with guanidine hydrochloride or SDS. Particulate and soluble components were then separated by centrifugation and molecularly characterized. Conditions that optimally solubilized residual PrP and/or nucleic acid-protein complexes were used to produce subfractions that were assayed for infectivity. All controls retained > 90% of the 120S titer (approximately 15% of that in total brain) but lost > 99.5% of their infectivity after heat-SDS treatment (unlike scrapie fractions enriched for PrP). Exposure to 1% SDS at 22 degrees C produced particulate nucleic acid-protein complexes that were almost devoid of host PrP. These sedimenting complexes were as infectious as the controls. In contrast, when such complexes were solubilized with 2.5 M guanidine hydrochloride, the infectious titer was reduced by > 99.5%. Sedimenting PrP aggregates with little nucleic acid and no detectable nucleic acid-binding proteins had negligible infectivity, as did soluble but multimeric forms of PrP. These data strongly implicate a classical viral structure, possibly with no intrinsic PrP, as the CJD infectious agent. CJD-specific protective nucleic acid-binding protein(s) have already been identified in 120S preparations, and preliminary subtraction studies have revealed several CJD-specific nucleic acids. Such viral candidates deserve more attention, as they may be of use in preventing iatrogenic CJD and in solving a fundamental mystery.