Prusiner proposed that the infectious agent of scrapie, the prion, is PrPSc, a modified form of the normal host protein PrPC. Prn-p0/0 mice devoid of PrPC showed normal development and behavior. When inoculated with mouse scrapie prions they remained free of scrapie symptoms for at least 16 months while wild type controls all died within 6 months. Propagation of infectivity in the PrP null mice, if any, was less than 10(-5) that in wild type animals. Surprisingly, heterozygous Prn-p0/+ mice also showed enhanced resistance to scrapie. After introduction of Syrian hamster PrP transgenes, Prn-p0/0 mice became highly susceptible to hamster but not to mouse prions. These experiments show that PrPC, possibly at close to normal levels, is required for the usual susceptibility to scrapie and that lack of homology between incoming prions and the host's PrP genes retards disease.