Anonymous screening of lymphoreticular tissues removed during routine surgery has been applied to estimate the UK population prevalence of asymptomatic vCJD prion infection. The retrospective study of Hilton et al (J Pathol 2004; 203: 733-739) found accumulation of abnormal prion protein in three formalin-fixed appendix specimens. This led to an estimated UK prevalence of vCJD infection of similar to 1 in 4000, which remains the key evidence supporting current risk reduction measures to reduce iatrogenic transmission of vCJD prions in the UK. Confirmatory testing of these positives has been hampered by the inability to perform immunoblotting of formalin-fixed tissue. Animal transmission studies offer the potential for `gold standard' confirmatory testing but are limited by both transmission barrier effects and known effects of fixation on scrapie prion titre in experimental models. Here we report the effects of fixation on brain and lymphoreticular human vCJD prions and comparative bioassay of two of the three prevalence study formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) appendix specimens using transgenic mice expressing human prion protein (PrP). While transgenic mice expressing human PrP 129M readily reported vCJD prion infection after inoculation with frozen vCJD brain or appendix, and also FFPE vCJD brain, no infectivity was detected in FFPE vCJD spleen. No prion transmission was observed from either of the FFPE appendix specimens. The absence of detectable infectivity in fixed, known positive vCJD lymphoreticular tissue precludes interpreting negative transmissions from vCJD prevalence study appendix specimens. In this context, the Hilton et al study should continue to inform risk assessment pending the outcome of larger-scale studies on discarded surgical tissues and autopsy samples.
- variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease
- prion disease
- prion strain
- prion transmission
- bovine spongiform encephalopathy