BACKGROUND: The administration of blood components from donors who subsequently develop Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has raised the issue of blood as a possible vehicle for iatrogenic disease.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: We examined infectivity in blood components and Cohn plasma fractions in normal human blood that had been “spiked” with trypsinized cells from a scrapie-infected hamster brain, and in blood of clinically ill mice that had been inoculated with a mouse-adapted strain of human transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. Infectivity was assayed by intracerebral inoculation of the blood specimens into healthy animals.

RESULTS: Most of the infectivity in spiked human blood was associated with cellular blood components; the smaller amount present in plasma, when fractionated, was found mainly in cryoprecipitate (the source of factor VIII) and fraction I+II+III (the source of fibrinogen and immunoglobulin); almost none was recovered in fraction IV (the source of vitamin-K-dependent proteins) and fraction V (the source of albumin). Mice infected with the human strain of spongiform encephalopathy had very low levels of endogenous infectivity in buffy coat, plasma, cryoprecipitate, and fraction I+II+III, and no detectable infectivity in fractions IV or V.

CONCLUSION: Convergent results from exogenous spiking and endogenous infectivity experiments, in which decreasing levels of infectivity occurred in cellular blood components, plasma, and plasma fractions, suggest a potential but minimal risk of acquiring Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from the administration of human plasma protein concentrates.