Research

The latest pandemic: how are coronavirus and prion diseases related?

What do you think about when it comes todeadly diseases? I bet viruses, bacteria, and microorganisms instantly come to mind. But nature is inventive and managed to create special protein compounds, infection with which in 100% of cases leads to death. The discovery of prions took place in 1982 and belongs to the American professor of neurology and biochemistry Stanley Prusiner. His work was a real breakthrough in medicine and in 1997 was awarded the Nobel Prize. The most common form of prion disease is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), better known as mad cow disease. Prions literally turn the brain of an infected animal (or person) into a sponge. The situation is complicated by a long incubation period - from two to three months to several decades. It is possible to identify the disease only after the onset of symptoms, and there is no cure. Prion diseases are rare, but today they are being talked about more and more, especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. But why?

Atypical protein compounds turn the brain into a sponge

Before prions were identified, suchdiseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other spongiform encephalopathies were considered viral. Prions are much smaller than viruses and contain no genetic material.

Viruses, bacteria and microorganisms

The diseases of the 21st century are very different from thoseraged hundreds of years ago. Viruses and bacteria are fighting us for survival, and we have succeeded in many ways - the victory over diseases such as smallpox and polio has become the brightest achievement of modern science. Nature's response to our efforts has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been going on for two years and is not going to stop (despite the invention of vaccines).

Unfortunately, the Coronaviruscontinues to evolve successfully. Over the past few months, different variants of covid have scattered around the world. The virus becomes more contagious, and mutations more inventive: the symptoms of the Omicron variant, for example, are increasingly similar to influenza and SARS and are very different from their predecessors, the Alpha and Delta variants.

There is no cure for prion diseases

Covid, alas, is terrible not only for the bright and changeablesymptoms. Its main threat is complications. Hacking the cells of the human body, the virus acts aggressively, affecting the cardiovascular system and damaging the immune system. Another interesting feature of the coronavirus is the so-called post-COVID syndrome, which can last for months.

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During the two years of the pandemic, the mostvarious consequences of the transferred covid - from loss of vision, hearing and voice to memory problems and the development of depression. Today, scientists have enough evidence that the coronavirus reduces blood flow to the brain, negatively affecting the work of neurons, ultimately killing them. But all of the above are flowers. In some cases, the virus leads to the development of incurable prion diseases. And that's really bad. And scary.

Prion diseases

It turns out that the coronavirus threatens humanity with the beginningprion disease pandemics. Prions are tiny proteins that, for some reason, fold in a way that damages healthy brain cells. This leads to rapidly progressive fatal dementia and subsequent painful death. The main danger of this kind of disease lies in the long incubation period, but when the symptoms appear, there is no salvation.

Prion protein is resistant to high temperatures, radiation, the action of proteases and chemicals - alcohol, formalin and others. The functions of prion proteins are unknown.

So, last year in France, all research on abnormal proteins was stopped. This happened after the death of a young scientist who became infected with prions in the laboratory. Prion disease included in the list of the most dangerous diseases in the world, however, before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it affected few.

More on the topic: Welcome to "Idiocracy": coronavirus contributes to reduced intelligence

Death from prion diseases is inevitable

Prions are highly contagious and have several waystransmission: by ingestion and by infection directly to the brain, skin and muscle tissue. The exact causes of neurodegenerative prion diseases in humans are unknown. It is believed that prions enter the body from an animal or other person, through a viral infection. They are not stopped by high temperatures and proper cooking of meat.

Prion diseases can affect both humans andand animals and are sometimes transmitted to humans through contaminated meat products. The most common form of prion disease that affects humans is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Under the influence of Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseasesick animals and people lose their appetite, control over the body and cannot navigate in space. Studying the brains of animals that died from the disease, scientists found tiny holes, from which the brain became like a holey sponge.

Prions turn the brain into a sponge

A few years ago, prions attacked deer,causing a veritable epidemic of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in several countries around the world. In 2019, information began to spread in the media about infected deer, which were quickly called zombies (this name, of course, is incorrect and does not hold water). And although there are no recorded cases of CWD in humans to date, it is probably only a matter of time - the incubation period can exceed several decades.

This is interesting: Zombie deer disease may have already been transmitted to humans

Last pandemic

One of the deadly complications of coronavirusbecame prions. COVID-19, as it turned out, contributes to the development of prion diseases: toxic S-protein, entering the human cell, can stimulate prion disease. Moreover, last year US researchers reported the first case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and COVID-19 at the same time. The results of the study showed that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus leads to a cascade of systemic inflammatory mediators and accelerates the pathogenesis of prion disease.

Now doctors from St. Petersburg report growthcases of prion diseases during the coronavirus pandemic. So far, there are few such patients in Russia and the world, but how will the situation change in a few years? Researchers believe that the cause of the development of prion disease is the very spike protein of the coronavirus - it became an infectious agent and provoked the production of proteins with an abnormal structure in the body.

There are diseases for which there is no cure

Experts do not hide their concern, assuming thatthe world should probably prepare for the next pandemic. Concerns are also raised by the fact that pathologists can become infected with prions during an autopsy - cases of infection of specialists from deceased patients were previously recorded.

See also: Deer become infected with coronavirus. Why is it important?

Another reason for concern isneurological symptoms of coronavirus, which are observed in 30% and 80% of those infected. Headache, nausea, impaired memory and consciousness are bright markers of COVID-19. Earlier we talked about a significant deterioration in the mental abilities of patients who had an illness. Now, scientists around the world are increasingly reporting an increase in cases of prion diseases.

In short, the news is disturbing.After all, if sick people and animals lose their minds and the ability to control their own bodies, then whom will they resemble? Every year the situation becomes more complicated, and the results of scientific research are alarming. As we get to know the coronavirus, more and more information will emerge about the damage the disease causes to the body and brain. Note that further research is needed in this area.

Reindeer suffer from both covid and prion disease. Burning mixture

It remains to be hoped that prion diseases are notwill become our main problem in 10-20 years. Otherwise, you can start preparing for the prion zombie apocalypse, and we have already told you how to do this, do not miss it.