A cow in Ibaraki Prefecture confirmed as Japan’s latest case of mad cow disease has exhibited a similar prion structure to that found in two cases in Italy, a Japanese expert said Sunday, referring to recently announced Italian research.

With the agriculture ministry trying to trace the source of infection for the latest case, Takashi Onodera, a professor at the University of Tokyo, raised the possibility that an infected cow in Italy became the source for the case.

“It is possible that an infected cow in Italy was imported into the country as meat-and-bone meal and became the source of infection for the eighth case,” said Onodera, who heads a government study panel on mad cow disease, which is formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

He added that he intends to study with Italian experts the prions that link the three cows.

Reported at a recent international conference on prion diseases in Germany, the Italian findings provide invaluable information, given there are no other cases in the world involving cows with such a similar prion structure.

Acting on this research, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will soon call in Onodera, who attended the conference, to brief the ministry about the research.

The malady is believed to be caused by the consumption of meat-and-bone meal contaminated with prions — protein particles lacking nucleic acid that have been linked to nervous system illnesses such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Onodera said the Italian research showed that two cows aged 11 and 12 exhibited a different prion structure and different pathological changes in their brains, where prions concentrate, to other cows involved in Europe’s mass mad cow outbreak.

Japan’s latest case — a 23-month-old Holstein infected with an atypical form of mad cow — revealed an almost identical prion structure to that found in the cows in Italy. But the cow did not share the other characteristic relating to the pathology of the brain.

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