Prion science has been on a rollercoaster for two decades. In the mid 1990s, the specter of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE) provoked an unprecedented public scare that was first precipitated by the realization that this animal prion disease could be transmitted to humans and then rekindled by the evidence that BSE-infected humans could pass on the infection through blood transfusions. Along with the gradual disappearance of BSE, the interest in prions has waned with the general public, funding agencies and prospective PhD students. In the past few years, however, a bewildering variety of diseases have been found to share features with prion infections, including cell-to-cell transmission. Here we review these developments and summarize those open questions that we currently deem most interesting in prion biology: how do prions damage their hosts, and how do hosts attempt to neutralize invading prions?