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Dr Fiona Houston graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in 1989, and spent four years working as a veterinarian in Canada and the UK. In 1997, she obtained her PhD for research on the immunopathogenesis of the cattle parasite Theileria parva, which was carried out at the Institute for Animal Health, Compton. She remained at the Institute for Animal Health to lead a new group studying the pathogenesis of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in sheep. This led to a number of important findings, including the first demonstration of efficient transmission of TSEs by blood transfusion, and experimental transmission of BSE to sheep previously considered to be genetically resistant to TSEs. In 2007, Dr Houston moved to the University of Glasgow Veterinary School, initially supported by a Royal Society Relocation fellowship, and then as a senior lecturer in Large Animal Clincial Sciences & Public Health. She was appointed to her current position of Group Leader in the Neurobiology Division of the Roslin Institute in 2013.

Current Research Interests

Molecular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of infectious and neurological diseases of ruminant livestock.

Research Interests

Prion diseases of ruminants, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scrapie and chronic wasting disease (CWD), are important because of their zoonotic potential, and the economic impact of control measures and trade restrictions on the farming industry. As ruminants are natural hosts of these diseases, they also provide valuable models for comparative studies that can yield insights into related human diseases, such as variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD). There are marked differences between different ruminant species in the pathogenesis and epidemiology of prion diseases. For example, in sheep and deer there is widespread replication of infectivity in lymphoid tissues, and relatively efficient disease transmission between susceptible individuals by a variety of routes, whereas in cattle the infectious agent is largely confined to the nervous system and there appears to be little or no direct transmission of disease. Interestingly, sheep with certain PrP genotypes also demonstrate limited replication of infectivity in lymphoid tissues when infected with prions, and this correlates with relative resistance to disease. I am interested in using a comparative approach in different ruminant species to identify the molecular mechanisms that determine susceptibility to prion infection at a cellular level, and explain differences in host susceptibility and routes of transmission. I am also interested in developing large animal models in cattle and sheep for comparative studies of age-related neurodegenerative changes, as well as the effects of ageing on other body systems.

Examples of proposed research areas:

  • The potential role of endogenous retroviruses in promoting prion replication in sheep tissues
  • The nature of the prion agent in blood and other body fluids
  • Establishing a herd of cattle born before 1996 for study of atypical BSE and age-related neurodegenerative change

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Glasgow

Award Date: 1 Jan 1998

Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery, University of Edinburgh

Award Date: 1 Jan 1989

Bachelor of Veterinary Science, University of Edinburgh

Award Date: 1 Jan 1989


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