Subclinical infection occurs frequently following low dose exposure to prions by blood transfusion

Khalid Salamat, Paula Stewart, Helen Brown, Kyle Tan, Allister Smith, Christopher De Wolf, Richard Alejo-Blanco, Marc L Turner, Jean C. Manson, Sandra McCutcheon, Fiona Houston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Infectious prion diseases have very long incubation periods, and the role that subclinical infections play in transmission, persistence and re-emergence of these diseases is unclear. In this study, we used a well-established model of vCJD (sheep experimentally infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE) to determine the prevalence of subclinical infection following exposure by blood transfusion from infected donors. Many recipient sheep survived for years post-transfusion with no clinical signs and no disease-associated PrP (PrPSc) found in post mortem tissue samples by conventional tests. Using a sensitive protein misfolding cyclic amplification assay (PMCA), we found that the majority of these sheep had detectable PrPSc in lymph node samples, at levels approximately 105-106 times lower than in equivalent samples from clinically positive sheep. Further testing revealed the presence of PrPSc in other tissues, including brain, but not in blood samples. The results demonstrate that subclinical infection is a frequent outcome of low dose prion infection by a clinically relevant route for humans (blood transfusion). The long term persistence of low levels of infection has important implications for prion disease control and the risks of re-emergent infections in both humans and animals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10923
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date28 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Animals
  • Asymptomatic Infections
  • Blood Transfusion
  • Cattle
  • Encephalopathy, Bovine Spongiform
  • PrPSc Proteins/metabolism
  • Prions
  • Sheep


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