Scrapie Affects the Maturation Cycle and Immune Complex Trapping by Follicular Dendritic Cells in Mice

Gillian McGovern, Neil Mabbott, Martin Jeffrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) or prion diseases are infectious neurological disorders of man and animals, characterised by abnormal disease-associated prion protein (PrPd) accumulations in the brain and lymphoreticular system (LRS). Prior to neuroinvasion, TSE agents often accumulate to high levels within the LRS, apparently without affecting immune function. However, our analysis of scrapie-affected sheep shows that PrPd accumulations within the LRS are associated with morphological changes to follicular dendritic cells (FDCs) and tingible body macrophages (TBMs). Here we examined FDCs and TBMs in the mesenteric lymph nodes (MLNs) of scrapie-affected mice by light and electron microscopy. In MLNs from uninfected mice, FDCs could be morphologically categorised into immature, mature and regressing forms. However, in scrapie-affected MLNs this maturation cycle was adversely affected. FDCs characteristically trap and retain immune complexes on their surfaces, which they display to B-lymphocytes. In scrapie-affected MLNs, some FDCs were found where areas of normal and abnormal immune complex retention occurred side by side. The latter colocalised with PrPd plasmalemmal accumulations. Our data suggest this previously unrecognised morphology represents the initial stage of an abnormal FDC maturation cycle. Alterations to the FDCs included PrPd accumulation, abnormal cell membrane ubiquitin and excess immunoglobulin accumulation. Regressing FDCs, in contrast, appeared to lose their membrane-attached PrPd. Together, these data suggest that TSE infection adversely affects the maturation and regression cycle of FDCs, and that PrPd accumulation is causally linked to the abnormal pathology observed. We therefore support the hypothesis that TSEs cause an abnormality in immune function.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8186
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2009


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