An international team of scientists developed a novel fluorescent biomarker designed to discriminate among different prion strains:
The method, reported in the journal Nature Methods, is based on a fluorescent molecule, a so-called conjugated polymer, which was developed at Linköping University in Sweden.
The research team infected genetically identical laboratory mice with BSE, scrapie (which afflicts sheep), and CWD (chronic wasting disease or ‘mad elk disease’, which is epidemic in the central US) for several generations in a row.
Gradually, new strains of prions emerged, making the diseases more fatal to the mice. Tissue samples from mice were examined using a fluorescent molecule that binds with prions. This is detected by a shift in colour.
By tweaking the molecule, the team has been able to get it to show different colours depending on the strain of the prion — each of which has a different structure.
This is an important difference compared with other techniques used to find prions, such as antibodies and the well-known stain Congo red.
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Abstract in Nature: Prion strain discrimination using luminescent conjugated polymers