Evidence in Sheep for Pre-Natal Transmission of Scrapie to Lambs from Infected Mothers

James D Foster, Wilfred Goldmann, Nora Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Natural scrapie transmission from infected ewes to their lambs is thought to occur by the oral route around the time of birth. However the hypothesis that scrapie transmission can also occur before birth (in utero) is not currently favoured by most researchers. As scrapie is an opportunistic infection with multiple infection routes likely to be functional in sheep, definitive evidence for or against transmission from ewe to her developing fetus has been difficult to achieve. In addition the very early literature on maternal transmission of scrapie in sheep was compromised by lack of knowledge of the role of the PRNP (prion protein) gene in control of susceptibility to scrapie. In this study we experimentally infected pregnant ewes of known PRNP genotype with a distinctive scrapie strain (SSBP/1) and looked for evidence of transmission of SSBP/1 to the offspring. The sheep were from the NPU Cheviot flock, which has endemic natural scrapie from which SSBP/1 can be differentiated on the basis of histology, genetics of disease incidence and strain typing bioassay in mice. We used embryo transfer techniques to allow sheep fetuses of scrapie-susceptible PRNP genotypes to develop in a range of scrapie-resistant and susceptible recipient mothers and challenged the recipients with SSBP/1. Scrapie clinical disease, caused by both natural scrapie and SSBP/1, occurred in the progeny but evidence (including mouse strain typing) of SSBP/1 infection was found only in lambs born to fully susceptible recipient mothers. Progeny were not protected from transmission of natural scrapie or SSBP/1 by washing of embryos to International Embryo Transfer Society standards or by caesarean derivation and complete separation from their birth mothers. Our results strongly suggest that pre-natal (in utero) transmission of scrapie may have occurred in these sheep.
Original languageEnglish
Article number79433
Number of pages13
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume8
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2013

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