"When they are healthy, they look like tiny spheres; when they are malignant, they appear as cubes" stated Giuseppe Legname, principal investigator of the Prion Biology Laboratory at the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA) in Trieste, when describing prion proteins. Prions are "misfolded" proteins that cause a group of incurable neurodegenerative diseases, including spongiform encephalopathies (for example, mad cow diseases) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Legname and coworkers have recently published a detailed analysis of the early mechanisms of misfolding. Their research has just been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the most authoritative scientific journal in the field.
Prions are unique infective agents -unlike viruses, bacteria, fungi and other parasites, prions do not contain either DNA or RNA. Despite their seemingly simple structure, they can propagate their pathological effects like wildfire, by "infecting" normal proteins. PrPSc (the pathological form of the prion protein) can induce normal prion proteins (PrPC) to acquire the wrong conformation and convert into further disease-causing agents.