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Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a brain disorder characterized by memory loss, jerky movements, gait disorder, rigid posture, and seizures due to a rapid loss of cerebral cells[?] caused by transmissible proteins called prions. The incidence of the disease is about 2 per 1,000,000 and it usually appears in mid-life with an average disease onset age of 50.

The prion that is believed to cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob exhibits an amino acid sequence and configuration which makes it insoluble in water, while the normal protein is highly soluble. So, as the numbers of defective prion proteins propagate and increase exponentially, the process leads to a huge load of insoluble prions in affected cells. This load of proteins disrupts cell function and causes cell death. Once the prion is transmitted, the defective proteins invade the brain like a forest fire and the patient dies within a few months time (a few patients live for about 1-2 years). The defective protein can be transmitted by human growth hormone products, corneal[?] grafts or dural grafts (acquired form) or it can be inherited (hereditary form) or appear for the first time in the patient (sporadic form). In the latter two forms the defective protein is not transmitted from an external source but already exists in the genes of the individual.

Cannibalism has also been implicated as a transmission mechanism for abnormal prions, the disease being known as Kuru found primarily among women and children in Papua New Guinea.

Diagnosis is usually established by clinical findings and certain characteristic atypical electroencephalography findings. Biopsy[?] of living brain tissue is definitive. There is currently no treatment for the disease, though as of December 2002 the first test of a proposed treatment (injection of pentosan polysulphate[?] directly into the brain) has been approved in Britain.

A new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is distinguished from the classical type by its early onset (usually in the 20s) and a predominance of psychiatric and sensory symptoms. The prions in this form are thought to be transmitted by consuming the meat of bovines with so-called mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), although there is no definite proof of this association as yet. However over 95% of identified cases of vCJD are in Britain.

The two German neurologists who first described this disease are Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt and Alfons Maria Jakob. Interestingly, most of the clinical findings described in their first papers do not match current criteria for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and it is considered highly likely that the patients in their initial studies were suffering from a completely different disorder.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the following:

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is a progressive neurological disorder which belongs to a group of degenerative neurologic diseases known as subacute spongiform encephalopathies.
  • Clinical features of CJD include a neurological presentation, with dementia, and a progressive cerebellar syndrome including ataxia, gait, and speech abnormalities. In most patients, these symptoms are followed by involuntary movements and the appearance of a typical diagnostic electroencephalogram tracing.
  • From 10 to 15 percent of CJD cases are inherited, but cases have been associated with the use of contaminated corneal transplants, electrode implants, dura mater grafts, and receipt of human growth hormone.
  • CJD occurs worldwide at a rate of about 1 case per million population per year.
  • The disease is found most frequently in patients 55-65 years of age, but cases can occur in persons older than 90 years and younger than 55 years of age.
  • In more than 85 percent of cases, the duration of CJD is less than 1 year (median: 4 months) after onset of symptoms.
  • CDC monitors the occurrence of CJD in the United States through periodic reviews of national mortality data.
  • On the basis of mortality surveillance from 1979 to 1994, the annual incidence of CJD remained stable at approximately 1 case per million persons in the United States.
  • In the United States, CJD deaths among persons younger than 30 years of age are extremely rare (fewer than 5 deaths per billion per year).

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