Studies on Kuru

II. Serum Proteins in Natives from the Kuru Region of New Guinea

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Electrophoresis, on paper, in starch-gels and by the moving boundary method, was carried out on the sera of 85 patients suffering from kuru, 363 other Melanesian natives and 50 other members of tropical populations. The results on sera from kuru patients were compared with those obtained for control groups of natives from kuru-affected and kuru-free areas in the Eastern Highlands and from other parts of New Guinea. Extreme variation in serum protein patterns of different ethnocultural groups indicated the necessity for further work on elucidating the environmental and genetic (racial) variables which underlie these differences.

Sera of kuru patients averaged significantly higher β globulin and total protein and lower albumin than did sera of normal Fore natives. The γ globulin levels were generally lower in both kuru victims and normal Fores than in others in Melanesia. In the terminal stages of the disease there was a tendency towards lowering of the β globulin levels which had become elevated early in the disease. Some terminal patients showed high γ globulin levels.

The electrophoretic pattern of normal Fore natives was distinguished by the appearance of a fairly well separated, elevated γ1 globulin. This was rarely found in other Melanesian groups, even those closely neighboring the Fore.

Starch-gel electrophoresis in kuru patients fell into 6 patterns which are illustrated and discussed. Normal Melanesians, however, showed starch-gel patterns virtually indistinguishable from those of normal Europeans and not the additional five “abnormal” patterns seen in kuru.

Haptoglobin typing was carried out on 80 starch-gel electrophoresis patterns of serum specimens from kuru patients. The Hp2 gene frequency of 0.44 was only slightly higher than that among 62 normal Fore natives (0.36). Transferrin and ceruloplasmin and further haptoglobin studies are in progress.

Electrophoresis of hemoglobin was carried out on 51 kuru and 62 normal subjects. In no case could any abnormal components be detected.

Chromatographic analyses of serum protein of normal Fore and of kuru sera are reported.

Author Notes

Baker Medical Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia.

National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

Department of Public Health, Kainantu, Territory of Papua and New Guinea.