Transmissible spongioform enchephalopathies (TSE's), include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also called BSE or "mad cow disease"), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, and scrapie in sheep. They remain a mystery, their cause hotly debated. But between 1994 and 1996, 12 people in England came down with CJD, the human form of mad cow, and all had eaten beef from suspect cows. Current mad cow diagnosis lies solely in the detection of late appearing "prions", an acronym for hypothesized, gene-less, misfolded proteins, somehow claimed to cause the disease. Yet laboratory preparations of prions contain other things, which could include unidentified bacteria or viruses. Furthermore, the rigors of prion purification alone, might, in and of themselves, have killed the causative virus or bacteria. Therefore, even if samples appear to infect animals, it is impossible to prove that prions are causative. Manuelidis found viral-like particles, which even when separated from prions, were responsible for spongiform STE's. Subsequently, Lasmezas's study showed that 55% of mice injected with cattle BSE, and who came down with disease, had no detectable prions. Still, incredibly, prions, are held as existing TSE dogma and Heino Dringer, who did pioneer work on their nature, candidly predicts "it will turn out that the prion concept is wrong." Many animals that die of spongiform TSE's never show evidence of misfolded proteins, and Dr. Frank Bastian, of Tulane, an authority, thinks the disorder is caused by the bacterial DNA he found in this group of diseases. Recently, Roels and Walravens isolated Mycobacterium bovis it from the brain of a cow with the clinical and histopathological signs of mad cow. Moreover, epidemiologic maps of the origins and peak incidence of BSE in the UK, suggestively match those of England's areas of highest bovine tuberculosis, the Southwest, where Britain's mad cow epidemic began. The neurotoxic potential for cow tuberculosis was shown in pre-1960 England, where one quarter of all tuberculous meningitis victims suffered from Mycobacterium bovis infection. And Harley's study showed pathology identical to "mad cow" from systemic M. bovis in cattle, causing a tuberculous spongiform encephalitis. In addition to M. bovis, Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (fowl tuberculosis) causes Johne's disease, a problem known and neglected in cattle and sheep for almost a century, and rapidly emerging as the disease of the new millennium. Not only has M. paratuberculosis been found in human Crohn's disease, but both Crohn's and Johne's both cross-react with the antigens of cattle paratuberculosis. Furthermore, central neurologic manifestations of Crohn's disease are not unknown. There is no known disease which better fits into what is occurring in Mad Cow and the spongiform enchephalopathies than bovine tuberculosis and its blood-brain barrier penetrating, virus-like, cell-wall-deficient forms. It is for these reasons that future research needs to be aimed in this direction.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ltd.