Detection of prions in blood from patients with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Sci Transl Med. 2016 Dec 21;8(370):370ra183. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf6188.


Human prion diseases are infectious and invariably fatal neurodegenerative diseases. They include sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), the most common form, and variant CJD (vCJD), which is caused by interspecies transmission of prions from cattle infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Development of a biochemical assay for the sensitive, specific, early, and noninvasive detection of prions (PrPSc) in the blood of patients affected by prion disease is a top medical priority to increase the safety of the blood supply. vCJD has already been transmitted from human to human by blood transfusion, and the number of asymptomatic carriers of vCJD in the U.K. alone is estimated to be 1 in 2000 people. We used the protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) technique to analyze blood samples from 14 cases of vCJD and 153 controls, including patients affected by sCJD and other neurodegenerative or neurological disorders as well as healthy subjects. Our results showed that PrPSc could be detected with 100% sensitivity and specificity in blood samples from vCJD patients. Detection was possible in any of the blood fractions analyzed and could be done with as little as a few microliters of sample volume. The PrPSc concentration in blood was estimated to be ~0.5 pg/ml. Our findings suggest that PMCA may be useful for premortem noninvasive diagnosis of vCJD and to identify prion contamination of the blood supply. Further studies are needed to fully validate the technology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome / blood*
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Hematologic Tests / methods*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Prions / blood*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • United Kingdom


  • Prions