While philosophers in ancient times had many ideas for the cause of contagion, the modern study of infective agents began with Fracastoro's 1546 proposal that invisible “spores” spread infectious disease. However, firm categorization of the pathogens of the natural world would need to await a mature germ theory that would not arise for 300 years. In the 19th century, the earliest pathogens described were bacteria and other cellular microbes. By the close of that century, the work of Ivanovsky and Beijerinck introduced the concept of a virus, an infective particle smaller than any known cell. Extending into the early–mid-20th century there was an explosive growth in pathogenic microbiology, with a cellular or viral cause identified for nearly every transmissible disease. A few occult pathogens remained to be discovered, including the infectious proteins (prions) proposed by Prusiner in 1982. This review discusses the prions identified in mammals, yeasts, and other organisms, focusing on the amyloid-based prions. I discuss the essential biochemical properties of these agents and the application of this knowledge to diseases of protein misfolding and aggregation, as well as the utility of yeast as a model organism to study prion and amyloid proteins that affect human and animal health. Further, I summarize the ideas emerging out of these studies that the prion concept may go beyond proteinaceous infectious particles and that prions may be a subset of proteins having general nucleating or seeding functions involved in noninfectious as well as infectious pathogenic protein aggregation.

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International Review of Cell and Molecular Biology



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Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published by Elsevier in International Review of Cell and Molecular Biology in 2017, available online: This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license