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Archival search for historical atypical scrapie in sheep reveals evidence for mixed infections

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Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of General Virology
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2015

Abstract

Natural scrapie in sheep occurs in classical and atypical forms, which may be distinguished on the basis of the associated neuropathology and properties of the disease-associated prion protein on Western blots. First detected in 1998, atypical scrapie is known to have occurred in UK sheep since the 1980s. However its aetiology remains unclear and is often considered as a sporadic, non-contagious disease unlike classical scrapie which is naturally transmissible. Although atypical scrapie tends to occur in sheep of prion protein (PRNP) genotypes that are different from those found predominantly in classical scrapie, there is some overlap so that there are genotypes in which both scrapie forms can occur. In this search for early atypical scrapie cases, we made use of an archive of fixed and frozen sheep samples, from both scrapie affected and healthy animals (~1850 individuals), dating back to the 1960s. Using a selection process based primarily on PRNP genotyping but also on contemporaneous records of unusual clinical signs or pathology, candidate sheep samples were screened by Western blot, immunohistochemistry and strain typing methods using tg338 mice. We have identified, from early time points in the archive, three atypical scrapie cases, including one sheep which died in 1972, and two of which show evidence of mixed infection with classical scrapie. Cases with both forms of scrapie in the same animal as recognisable entities, suggest that mixed infections have been around for a long time and may potentially contribute to the variety of scrapie strains.

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