Eating animal brains is considered a delicacy in parts of China. We know that eating animal brains can lead to prion related diseases.

Prions are misfolded proteins that are potentially infectious. But the whole body of an animal is full of proteins. What makes the brain special? (or specially infectious?)

My question is: Why do you get prion diseases from eating animal brains but not other parts of the animal?

  • $\begingroup$ Because the proteins that are susceptible to what we characterize as prion disease is mostly specific to the brain / nervous system. Research is still being conducted regarding why these proteins and not others. $\endgroup$
    – user22020
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks - could you expand that into an answer? $\endgroup$
    – hawkeye
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 8:50

1 Answer 1


The notion that you get prion diseases like BSE only by consumption of brain is not correct. Any part of the infected animal that contains nervous system tissue or lymphatic tissue can be infectious, although I guess this is dose-related.

Quote from OIE, "BSE. General disease information sheet" ([1]):

The risk linked with consumption is addressed by the requirement for routine removal of all visible nervous and lymphatic tissue (Specified Risk Materials (SRMs)) from carcasses during the processing of cattle as well as the removal of any suspect animals from the human food chain.

Appropriate handling of nervous and lymphatic tissue tissues from BSE-suspect animals in abattoirs and laboratories is indicated to avoid accidental exposure (ocular or oronasal). Milk and milk products are considered safe.

[1] http://www.oie.int/fileadmin/Home/eng/Media_Center/docs/pdf/Disease_cards/BSE-EN.pdf

The OIE is the animal equivalent of the WHO.


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