Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

A mysterious group of chronic degenerative brain diseases involves wild and domestic animals and humans. Mink, elk, mule deer, sheep, goats and cattle are among the animals that can be afflicted. Microscopically, brain tissue affected by these diseases has

686 Chapter 26 Nervous System Infections a spongy appearance due to the loss of nerve cells and other changes—this is why these diseases are referred to as spongiform encephalopathies. Brain and other tissues from affected animals can transmit the disease to normal animals of the same, and sometimes different, species. Some of these encephalopathies can be transmitted to small laboratory animals such as mice, allowing scientific scrutiny. These diseases assumed new prominence when, in 1996, a previously unrecognized spongiform encephalopathy in humans was described during a United Kingdom mad cow disease epidemic. ■ "mad cow disease,"p. 366

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