Personal profile


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). The research in my group focuses on mechanisms that contribute to the pathogenesis and transmission of prion diseases in ruminants. We pioneered the use of sheep as a model to study transmission of prions by blood transfusion, and are currently using the extensive archive of blood samples from these studies to develop and test diagnostic assays, including novel biomarkers. Another area of interest is mechanisms underlying long term persistence of infection in individuals in the absence of signs of disease (subclinical infection), potentially representing a reservoir for future transmission. We are also investigating the effect of prion protein (PrP) genetic variation in modulating pathogenesis and susceptibility to chronic wasting disease (CWD) in European deer/cervid species, following the emergence of the disease in Norway in 2016. In addition to our work on prion diseases, we also study the comparative neuropathology of aging in ruminants and other domesticated animals. 

Previous work includes: Tissue/cell specific cofactors that facilitate prion replication. Effects of co-infection with BSE and scrapie in sheep. Effect of age on susceptibility to oral infection with BSE in sheep. Genetic susceptibility to BSE and scrapie in sheep. Role of PrP sequence variation on innate immune function in sheep. Immunopathogenesis of Theileria parva in cattle. Cattle T cell receptor repertoire in response to infection.


Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), The potential role of superantigens in the pathogenesis of bovine theileriosis, 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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