Analyses of food chains supporting isolated clusters of sporadic TSEs (CWD in N Colorado, scrapie in Iceland, CJD in Slovakia) demonstrate a consistent 2 1/2+ fold greater concentration of the pro-oxidant divalent cation, manganese (Mn), in relation to normal levels recorded in adjoining TSE-free localities. Deficiencies of the antioxidant co factors Cu/Se/Zn/Fe and Mg, P and Na were also consistently recorded in TSE foodchains. Similarities between the clinical/pathological profile of TSEs and Mn delayed psycho-neurotoxicity in miners are cited, and a novel theory generated which suggests that sporadic TSE results from early life dependence of TSE susceptible genotypes on ecosystems characterised by this specific pattern of mineral imbalance. Low Cu/Fe induces an excessive absorption of Mn in ruminants and an increased oxidation of Mn2+ into its pro oxidant species, Mn3+, which accumulates in mitochondria of CNS astrocytes in Mn SOD deficient genotypes. Deficiencies of scavenger co factors Cu/Zn/Se/Fe in the CNS permits Mn3+ initiated chain reactions of auto-oxidant mediated neuronal degeneration to proliferate, which, in turn, up-regulates the expression of the Cu-metalloprotein, prion protein (PrP). Once the rate of PrP turnover and its demand for Cu exceeds the already depleted supply of Cu within the CNS, PrP can no longer bind sufficient Cu to maintain its conformation. Mn3+ substitutes at the vacated Cu domain on PrP, thus priming up a latent capacity for lethal auto-oxidative activity to be carried along with PrP like a 'trojan horse'; where Mn 3+ serves as the integral 'infectious' transmissible component of the misfolded PrP-cation complex. The Mn overactivation of concanavalin A binding to glycoprotein and Mn-initiated autoxidation results in a diverse pathological profile involving receptor capping, aggregation/modification of CNS membrane/cytoskeletal proteins. TSE ensues. The BSE/nv CJD strain entails a 'synthetic' induction of the same CNS mineral disturbance, where 'in utero' exposure to Cu-chelating insecticides/Mn supplements accelerates the onset of a more virulent 'strain' of adolescent TSE. Copyright 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.