The prion, the transmissible agent that causes spongiform encephalopathies such as scrapie, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is believed to be devoid of nucleic acid and to be identical to PrPSc (prion protein scrapie form), a modified form of the normal host protein PrPC (prion protein cellular form) which is encoded by the single copy gene Prnp. The 'protein only' hypothesis proposes that PrPSc, when introduced into a normal host, causes the conversion of PrPC into PrPSc; it therefore predicts that an animal devoid of PrPC should be resistant to prion diseases. The authors generated homozygous Prnp(o/o) ('PrP knockout') mice and showed that, after inoculation with prions, these mice remained free from scrapie for at least two years while wild-type controls all died within six months. There was no propagation of prions in the Prnp(o/o) animals. Surprisingly, heterozygous Prnp(o/+) mice, which express PrPC at about half the normal level, also showed enhanced resistance to scrapie despite high levels of infectious agent and PrPSc in the brain at an early stage. After introduction of murine PrP transgenes, Prnp(o/o) mice became highly susceptible to mouse--but not to hamster--prions, while the insertion of Syrian hamster PrP transgenes rendered the mice susceptible to hamster prions but much less susceptible to mouse prions. These complementation experiments enabled the application of reverse genetics. The authors prepared animals transgenic for genes encoding PrP with amino terminal deletions of various lengths and found that PrP that lacks 48 amino proximal amino acids (which comprise four of the five octa repeats of PrP) is still biologically active.