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Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies

Immunologica l and structural studies of prion diversity

EC contribution
: € 1 960 000
: 48 months
Starting date
: June 1, 2006
: IP
: food safety, prion, Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, strain diversity, structural biology, immune system, dendritic cells, complement, data mining.
Project Number
: OOD-CT-2006-023144
: -


IMMUNOPRION is a project at the cutting-edge of current scientific knowledge on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs). The project is built around three key issues: the strain diversity of TSE agents; the crossing of the species barrier; and the evaluation of the host innate and acquired immune responses. TSEs are diseases that affect the brain and the nervous system of humans and animals, among which we find what is commonly termed Mad Cow Disease and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). TSEs are propagated by prions (a type of infectious agent made exclusively of protein) through the food chain.

IMMUNOPRION is investigating the fundamental features of TSEs to develop the detection of prion strains for diagnostic procedures and for the control of their dissemination through the food chain. The project's objectives are organised around the idea that a rational food safety strategy must prevent, predict and protect.


The passage of TSE agents, scrapie form of the prion (PrPSc), from one species to another is limited by a so-called species barrier. When it occurs, this cross-species passage presents the risk for introducing new prions into the human food chain.

The strength of this barrier varies considerably according to the mammalian species: in some combinations, the passage is almost inexistent, or requires more infectious material and longer incubation periods than within members of a same species. Under natural conditions too, the species barrier is highly variable: no evidence of human contamination by ovine scrapie has been reported so far whereas hundreds cases of the human new variant vCJD have been attributed to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) agent.

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