The amino-acid sequence of the PrP protein plays an important role in determining whether sheep are susceptible to scrapie. Although the genetics of scrapie susceptibility are now well understood, there have been few studies of the PrP gene at the population level, especially in commercially farmed sheep. Here we describe the PrP genetic profiles of the breeding stock of four UK sheep flocks, comprising nearly 650 animals in total. Two flocks had been scrapie affected for about eight years and two were scrapie free. Scrapie-resistant PrP genotypes predominated in all flocks but highly susceptible genotypes were present in each case. The distribution of PrP genotypes was similar in the scrapie-affected and scrapie-free flocks. The former, however, showed a slight but significant skew towards more susceptible genotypes despite their previous losses of susceptible sheep. Surprisingly, this skew was apparent in younger, but not older, sheep. We suggest that these patterns may occur if sheep flocks destined to become scrapie affected are predisposed by a genetic profile skewed towards susceptibility. The age structure of the scrapie-affected flocks suggests that the number of losses attributable directly or indirectly to scrapie considerably exceeds that recognized by the farmers, and also that significant losses may occur even in sheep of a moderately susceptible genotype. Similar patterns were not detected in the scrapie-free flocks, indicating that these losses are associated with scrapie infection as well as genotype.
Cost-benefit is rarely combined with nonlinear dynamic models when evaluating control options for infectious diseases. The current strategy for scrapie in Great Britain requires that all genetically susceptible livestock in affected flocks be culled (Compulsory Scrapie Flock Scheme or CSFS). However, this results in the removal of many healthy sheep, and a recently developed pre-clinical test for scrapie now offers a strategy based on disease detection. We explore the flock level cost-effectiveness of scrapie control using a deterministic transmission model and industry estimates of costs associated with genotype testing, pre-clinical tests and the value of a sheep culled. Benefit was measured in terms of the reduction in the number of infected sheep sold on, compared to a baseline strategy of doing nothing, using Incremental Cost Effectiveness analysis to compare across strategies. As market data was not available for pre-clinical testing, a threshold analysis was used to set a unit-cost giving equal costs for CSFS and multiple pre-clinical testing (MT, one test each year for three consecutive years). Assuming a 40% within-flock proportion of susceptible genotypes and a test sensitivity of 90%, a single test (ST) was cheaper but less effective than either the CSFS or MT strategies (30 infected-sales-averted over the lifetime of the average epidemic). The MT strategy was slightly less effective than the CSFS and would be a dominated strategy unless preclinical testing was cheaper than the threshold price of £6.28, but may be appropriate for flocks with particularly valuable livestock. Though the ST is not currently recommended, the proportion of susceptible genotypes in the national flock is likely to continue to decrease; this may eventually make it a cost-effective alternative to the MT or CSFS.
Scrapie control in Great Britain (GB) was originally based on the National Scrapie Plan's Ram Genotyping scheme aimed at reducing the susceptibility of the national flock. The current official strategy to control scrapie in the national flock involves culling susceptible genotypes in individual, known affected flocks (compulsory scrapie flock scheme or CSFS). However, the recent development of preclinical test candidates means that a strategy based on disease detection may now be feasible. Here, a deterministic within-flock model was used to demonstrate that only large flocks with many home-bred ewes are likely to be a significant risk for flock-to-flock transmission of scrapie. For most other flocks, it was found that the CSFS could be replaced by a strategy using a currently available live test without excessive risk to other farmers, even if the proportion of susceptible genotypes in the flock is unusually large. Even for flocks that represent a high risk of harbouring a high prevalence of infection, there would be limited probability of onward transmission if scrapie is detected soon after disease introduction (typically less than 5 years). However, if detection of disease is delayed, the existing CSFS strategy may be the most appropriate control measure in these cases.
In the wake of the epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy the British government established a flock of sheep from which scrapie-free animals are supplied to laboratories for research. Three breeds of sheep carrying a variety of different genotypes associated with scrapie susceptibility/resistance were imported in 1998 and 2001 from New Zealand, a country regarded as free from scrapie. They are kept in a purpose-built Sheep Unit under strict disease security and are monitored clinically and post mortem for evidence of scrapie. It is emphasised that atypical scrapie, as distinct from classical scrapie, has been recognised only relatively recently and differs from classical scrapie in its clinical, neuropathological and biochemical features. Most cases are detected in apparently healthy sheep by post mortem examination.
The occurrence of atypical scrapie in three sheep in (or derived from) the Sheep Unit is reported. Significant features of the affected sheep included their relatively high ages (6 y 1 mo, 7 y 9 mo, 9 y 7 mo respectively), their breed (all Cheviots) and their similar PRNP genotypes (AFRQ/AFRQ, AFRQ/ALRQ, and AFRQ/AFRQ, respectively). Two of the three sheep showed no clinical signs prior to death but all were confirmed as having atypical scrapie by immunohistochemistry and Western immunoblotting. Results of epidemiological investigations are presented and possible aetiologies of the cases are discussed.
By process of exclusion, a likely explanation for the three cases of atypical scrapie is that they arose spontaneously and were not infected from an exterior source. If correct, this raises challenging issues for countries which are currently regarded as free from scrapie. It would mean that atypical scrapie is liable to occur in flocks worldwide, especially in older sheep of susceptible genotypes. To state confidently that both the classical and atypical forms of scrapie are absent from a population it is necessary for active surveillance to have taken place.
Control of scrapie, an ovine transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or prion disorder, has been hampered by the lack of conventional antemortem diagnostic tests. Currently, scrapie is diagnosed by postmortem examination of the brain and lymphoid tissues for PrPSc, the protein marker for this group of disorders. For live, asymptomatic sheep, diagnosis using tonsil or third-eyelid lymphoid tissue biopsy and PrPSc assay has been described. To evaluate the feasibility and efficacy of third-eyelid testing for identification of infected flocks and individual infected sheep, 690 sheep from 22 flocks were sampled by third-eyelid lymphoid tissue biopsy and immunohistochemistry. Sheep were further evaluated for relative genetic susceptibility and potential contact exposure to scrapie. Third-eyelid testing yielded suitable samples for 80% of the sheep tested, with a mean of 18.1 lymphoid follicles (germinal centers) per histologic section. Three hundred eleven of the sheep were sampled through passive surveillance programs, in which only sheep with potential contact with an infected sheep at a lambing event were tested, regardless of their scrapie susceptibility genotype. In addition, 141 genetically susceptible sheep with no record of contact with an infected animal at a lambing event were sampled through a targeted active surveillance program. Ten PrPSc-positive sheep were identified through the passive surveillance program, and an additional three PrPSc-positive sheep, including two from flocks with no history of scrapie, were identified through the active surveillance program. All PrPSc-positive sheep had the highly susceptible PrP genotype. Third-eyelid testing is a useful adjunct to flock monitoring programs, slaughter surveillance, and mandatory disease reporting in a comprehensive scrapie eradication and research program.
Susceptibility of sheep to scrapie infection is known to be modulated by the PrP genotype of the animal. In the Netherlands an ambitious scrapie control programme was started in 1998, based on genetic selection of animals for breeding. From 2002 onwards EU regulations required intensive active scrapie surveillance as well as certain control measures in affected flocks.
Here we analyze the data on genotype frequencies and scrapie prevalence in the Dutch sheep population obtained from both surveillance and affected flocks, to identify temporal trends. We also estimate the genotype-specific relative risks to become a detected scrapie case.
We find that the breeding programme has produced a steady increase in the level of genetic scrapie resistance in the Dutch sheep population. We also find that a significant decline in the prevalence of scrapie in tested animals has occurred a number of years after the start of the breeding programme. Most importantly, the estimated scrapie prevalence level per head of susceptible genotype is also declining significantly, indicating that selective breeding causes a population effect.
The Dutch scrapie control programme has produced a steady rise in genetic resistance levels in recent years. A recent decline in the scrapie prevalence per tested sheep of susceptible prion protein genotype indicates that selective breeding causes the desired population effect.
Susceptibility to scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in sheep, is modulated by the genetic make-up of the sheep. Scrapie control policies, based on selecting animals of resistant genotype for breeding, have recently been adopted by the Netherlands and other European countries. Here we assess the effectiveness of a breeding programme based on selecting rams of resistant genotype to obtain outbreak control in classical scrapie-affected sheep flocks under field conditions. In six commercially-run flocks following this breeding strategy, we used genotyping to monitor the genotype distribution, and tonsil biopsies and post-mortem analyses to monitor the occurrence of scrapie infection. The farmers were not informed about the monitoring results until the end of the study period of six years. We used a mathematical model of scrapie transmission to analyze the monitoring data and found that where the breeding scheme was consistently applied, outbreak control was obtained after at most four years. Our results also show that classical scrapie control can be obtained before the frequency of non-resistant animals is reduced to zero in the flock. This suggests that control at the national scale can be obtained without a loss of genetic polymorphisms from any of the sheep breeds.
Existing mathematical models for scrapie dynamics in sheep populations assume that the PrP gene is only associated with scrapie susceptibility and with no other fitness related traits. This assumption contrasts recent findings of PrP gene associations with post-natal lamb survival in scrapie free Scottish Blackface populations. Lambs with scrapie resistant genotypes were found to have significantly lower survival rates than those with susceptible genotypes. The present study aimed to investigate how these conflicting PrP gene associations may affect the dynamic patterns of PrP haplotype frequencies and disease prevalence.
A deterministic mathematical model was developed to explore how the associations between PrP genotype and both scrapie susceptibility and postnatal lamb mortality affect the prevalence of scrapie and the associated change in PrP gene frequencies in a closed flock of sheep. The model incorporates empirical evidence on epidemiological and biological characteristics of scrapie and on mortality rates induced by causes other than scrapie. The model results indicate that unfavorable associations of the scrapie resistant PrP haplotypes with post-natal lamb mortality, if sufficiently strong, can increase scrapie prevalence during an epidemic, and result in scrapie persisting in the population. The range of model parameters, for which such effects were observed, is realistic but relatively narrow.
The results of the present model suggest that for most parameter combinations an unfavourable association between PrP genotype and post-natal lamb mortality does not greatly alter the dynamics of scrapie and, hence, would not have an adverse impact on a breeding programme. There were, however, a range of scenarios, narrow, but realistic, in which such an unfavourable association resulted in an increased prevalence and in the persistence of infection. Consequently, associations between PrP genotypes and fitness traits should be taken into account when designing future models and breeding programmes.
Genetic predisposition to scrapie in sheep is associated with several variations in the peptide sequence of the prion protein gene (PRNP). DNA-based tests for scoring PRNP codons are essential tools for eradicating scrapie and for evaluating rare alleles for increased resistance to disease. In addition to those associated with scrapie, there are dozens more PRNP polymorphisms that may occur in various flocks. If not accounted for, these sites may cause base-pair mismatching with oligonucleotides used in DNA testing. Thus, the fidelity of scrapie genetic testing is enhanced by knowing the position and frequency of PRNP polymorphisms in targeted flocks.
An adaptive DNA sequencing strategy was developed to determine the 771 bp PRNP coding sequence for any sheep and thereby produce a consensus sequence for targeted flocks. The strategy initially accounted for 43 known polymorphisms and facilitates the detection of unknown polymorphisms through an overlapping amplicon design. The strategy was applied to 953 sheep DNAs from multiple breeds in U.S. populations. The samples included two sets of reference sheep: one set for standardizing PRNP genetic testing and another set for discovering polymorphisms, estimating allele frequencies, and determining haplotype phase. DNA sequencing revealed 16 previously unreported polymorphisms, including a L237P variant on the F141 haplotype. Two mass spectrometry multiplex assays were developed to score five codons of interest in U.S. sheep: 112, 136, 141, 154, and 171. Reference tissues, DNA, trace files, and genotypes from this project are publicly available for use without restriction.
Identifying ovine PRNP polymorphisms in targeted flocks is critical for designing efficient scrapie genetic testing systems. Together with reference DNA panels, this information facilitates training, certification, and development of new tests and knowledge that may expedite the eradication of sheep scrapie.
Following EU decision 2003/100/EC Member States have recently implemented sheep breeding programmes to reduce the prevalence of sheep with TSE susceptible prion genotypes. The present paper investigates the progress of the breeding programme in the Netherlands. The PrP genotype frequencies were monitored through time using two sets of random samples: one set covers the years 2005 to 2008 and is taken from national surveillance programme; the other is taken from 168 random sheep farms in 2007. The data reveal that although the level of compliance to the breeding programme has been high, the frequency of susceptible genotypes varies substantially between farms. The 168 sheep farms are a subset of 689 farms participating in a postal survey inquiring about management and breeding strategies. This survey aimed to identify how much these strategies varied between farms, in order to inform assessment of the expected future progress towards eradication of classical scrapie.
On the one hand, we found that compliance to the national breeding program has been high, and the frequency of resistant genotypes is expected to increase further in the next few years. On the other hand, we observed a large variation in prevalence of the scrapie resistant PrP genotype ARR between farms, implicating a large variation of genetic resistance between farms. Substantial between-flock differences in management and breeding strategies were found in the postal survey, suggesting considerable variation in risk of scrapie transmission between farms.
Our results show that although there has been a good progress in the breeding for scrapie resistance and the average farm-level scrapie susceptibility in the Netherlands has been significantly reduced, still a considerable proportion of farms contain high frequencies of susceptible genotypes in their sheep population. Since 2007 the breeding for genetic resistance is voluntarily again, and participation to selective breeding can decrease as a result of this. This, together with the patterns of direct and indirect contact between sheep farms, might present a challenge of the aim of scrapie eradication. Communication to sheep owners of the effect of the breeding programme thus far, and of the prospects for classical scrapie eradication in The Netherlands might be essential for obtaining useful levels of participation to the voluntary continuation of the breeding programme.
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.
The susceptibility of sheep to scrapie is under the control of the host’s prion protein (PrP) gene and is also influenced by the strain of the agent. PrP polymorphisms at codons 136 (A/V), 154 (R/H) and 171 (Q/R/H) are the main determinants of susceptibility/resistance of sheep to classical scrapie. They are combined in four main variants of the wild-type ARQ allele: VRQ, AHQ, ARH and ARR. Breeding programmes have been undertaken on this basis in the European Union and the USA to increase the frequency of the resistant ARR allele in sheep populations. Herein, we report the results of a multi-flock study showing the protective effect of polymorphisms other than those at codons 136, 154 and 171 in Sarda breed sheep. All ARQ/ARQ affected sheep (n = 154) and 378 negative ARQ/ARQ controls from four scrapie outbreaks were submitted to sequencing of the PrP gene. The distribution of variations other than those at the standard three codons, between scrapie cases and negative controls, was statistically different in all flocks. In particular, the AT137RQ and ARQK176 alleles showed a clear protective effect. This is the first study demonstrating a protective influence of alleles other than ARR under field conditions. If further investigations in other sheep breeds and with other scrapie sources confirm these findings, the availability of various protective alleles in breeding programmes of sheep for scrapie resistance could be useful in breeds with a low frequency of the ARR allele and would allow maintaining a wider variability of the PrP gene.
transmissible spongiform encephalopathy; PrP; genetics; scrapie; sheep
Atypical/Nor98 scrapie was first identified in 1998 in Norway. It is now considered as a worldwide disease of small ruminants and currently represents a significant part of the detected transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) cases in Europe. Atypical/Nor98 scrapie cases were reported in ARR/ARR sheep, which are highly resistant to BSE and other small ruminants TSE agents. The biology and pathogenesis of the Atypical/Nor98 scrapie agent in its natural host is still poorly understood. However, based on the absence of detectable abnormal PrP in peripheral tissues of affected individuals, human and animal exposure risk to this specific TSE agent has been considered low. In this study we demonstrate that infectivity can accumulate, even if no abnormal PrP is detectable, in lymphoid tissues, nerves, and muscles from natural and/or experimental Atypical/Nor98 scrapie cases. Evidence is provided that, in comparison to other TSE agents, samples containing Atypical/Nor98 scrapie infectivity could remain PrPSc negative. This feature will impact detection of Atypical/Nor98 scrapie cases in the field, and highlights the need to review current evaluations of the disease prevalence and potential transmissibility. Finally, an estimate is made of the infectivity loads accumulating in peripheral tissues in both Atypical/Nor98 and classical scrapie cases that currently enter the food chain. The results obtained indicate that dietary exposure risk to small ruminants TSE agents may be higher than commonly believed.
Following the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis and the identification of its zoonotic properties, a sanitary policy has been implemented based on both eradication of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) in food-producing animals and exclusion of known infectious materials from the food chain. Atypical/Nor98 scrapie is a prion disease of small ruminants identified worldwide. Currently it represents a significant part of the TSE cases detected in Europe. The restricted tissue distribution of Atypical/Nor98 scrapie agent in its natural host and the low detected prevalence of secondary cases in affected flocks meant that it is believed to be a poorly transmissible disease. This has led to the view that Atypical/Nor98 scrapie is a spontaneous disorder for which human and animal exposure risk remains low. In this study we demonstrate that in affected individuals, Atypical/Nor98 scrapie agent can disseminate in lymphoid tissues, nerves, and muscles, challenging the idea that it is a brain-restricted infectious agent. Evidence for the deficiencies in the current methods applied for monitoring Atypical/Nor98 scrapie is provided that would indicate an underestimation in the prevalence in the general population and in the affected flocks. These elements challenge the hypothesis on the biology of this recently identified TSE agent.
Most previous analyses of scrapie outbreaks have focused on flocks run by research institutes, which may not reflect the field situation. Within this study, we attempt to rectify this deficit by describing the epidemiological characteristics of 30 sheep flocks naturally-infected with classical scrapie, and by exploring possible underlying causes of variation in the characteristics between flocks, including flock-level prion protein (PrP) genotype profile. In total, the study involved PrP genotype data for nearly 8600 animals and over 400 scrapie cases.
We found that most scrapie cases were restricted to just two PrP genotypes (ARQ/VRQ and VRQ/VRQ), though two flocks had markedly different affected genotypes, despite having similar underlying genotype profiles to other flocks of the same breed; we identified differences amongst flocks in the age of cases of certain PrP genotypes; we found that the age-at-onset of clinical signs depended on peak incidence and flock type; we found evidence that purchasing infected animals is an important means of introducing scrapie to a flock; we found some evidence that flock-level PrP genotype profile and flock size account for variation in outbreak characteristics; identified seasonality in cases associated with lambing time in certain flocks; and we identified one case that was homozygous for phenylalanine at codon 141, a polymorphism associated with a very high risk of atypical scrapie, and 28 cases that were heterozygous at this codon.
This paper presents the largest study to date on commercially-run sheep flocks naturally-infected with classical scrapie, involving 30 study flocks, more than 400 scrapie cases and over 8500 PrP genotypes. We show that some of the observed variation in epidemiological characteristics between farms is related to differences in their PrP genotype profile; although much remains unexplained and may instead be attributed to the stochastic nature of scrapie dynamics.
Selective breeding of sheep for arginine (R) at prion gene (PRNP) codon 171 confers resistance to classical scrapie. However, other effects of 171R selection are uncertain. Ovine progressive pneumonia/Maedi-Visna virus (OPPV) may infect up to 66% of a flock thus any affect of 171R selection on OPPV susceptibility or disease progression could have major impact on the sheep industry. Hypotheses that the PRNP 171R allele is 1) associated with the presence of OPPV provirus and 2) associated with higher provirus levels were tested in an Idaho ewe flock. OPPV provirus was found in 226 of 358 ewes by quantitative PCR. The frequency of ewes with detectable provirus did not differ significantly among the 171QQ, 171QR, and 171RR genotypes (p > 0.05). Also, OPPV provirus levels in infected ewes were not significantly different among codon 171 genotypes (p > 0.05). These results show that, in the flock examined, the presence of OPPV provirus and provirus levels are not related to the PRNP 171R allele. Therefore, a genetic approach to scrapie control is not expected to increase or decrease the number of OPPV infected sheep or the progression of disease. This study provides further support to the adoption of PRNP 171R selection as a scrapie control measure.
During the last decade, active surveillance for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in small ruminants has been intensive in Europe. In many countries this has led to the detection of cases of atypical scrapie which, unlike classical scrapie, might not be contagious. EU legislation requires, that following detection of a scrapie case, control measures including further testing take place in affected flocks, including the culling of genotype susceptible to classical scrapie. This might result in the detection of additional cases. The aim of this study was to investigate the occurrence of additional cases in flocks affected by atypical scrapie using surveillance data collected in Europe in order to ascertain whether atypical scrapie, is contagious.
Questionnaires were used to collect, at national level, the results of active surveillance and testing associated with flock outbreaks in 12 European countries. The mean prevalence of atypical scrapie was 5.5 (5.0-6.0) cases per ten thousand in abattoir surveillance and 8.1 (7.3-9.0) cases per ten thousand in fallen stock. By using meta-analysis, on 11 out of the 12 countries, we found that the probability of detecting additional cases of atypical scrapie in positive flocks was similar to the probability observed in animals slaughtered for human consumption (odds ratio, OR = 1.07, CI95%: 0.70-1.63) or among fallen stock (OR = 0.78, CI95%: 0.51-1.2). In contrast, when comparing the two scrapie types, the probability of detecting additional cases in classical scrapie positive flocks was significantly higher than the probability of detecting additional cases in atypical scrapie positive flocks (OR = 32.4, CI95%: 20.7-50.7).
These results suggest that atypical scrapie is not contagious or has a very low transmissibility under natural conditions compared with classical scrapie. Furthermore this study stressed the importance of standardised data collection to make good use of the analyses undertaken by European countries in their efforts to control atypical and classical scrapie.
Magnetic resonance imaging has been used in the diagnosis of human prion diseases such as sCJD and vCJD, but patients are scanned only when clinical signs appear, often at the late stage of disease. This study attempts to answer the questions "Could MRI detect prion diseases before clinical symptoms appear?, and if so, with what confidence?"
Scrapie, the prion disease of sheep, was chosen for the study because sheep can fit into a human sized MRI scanner (and there were no large animal MRI scanners at the time of this study), and because the USDA had, at the time of the study, a sizeable sample of scrapie exposed sheep, which we were able to use for this purpose. 111 genetically susceptible sheep that were naturally exposed to scrapie were used in this study.
Our MRI findings revealed no clear, consistent hyperintense or hypointense signal changes in the brain on either clinically affected or asymptomatic positive animals on any sequence. However, in all 37 PrPSc positive sheep (28 asymptomatic and 9 symptomatic), there was a greater ventricle to cerebrum area ratio on MRI compared to 74 PrPSc negative sheep from the scrapie exposed flock and 6 control sheep from certified scrapie free flocks as defined by immunohistochemistry (IHC).
Our findings indicate that MRI imaging can detect diffuse cerebral atrophy in asymptomatic and symptomatic sheep infected with scrapie. Nine of these 37 positive sheep, including 2 one-year old animals, were PrPSc positive only in lymph tissues but PrPSc negative in the brain. This suggests either 1) that the cerebral atrophy/neuronal loss is not directly related to the accumulation of PrPSc within the brain or 2) that the amount of PrPSc in the brain is below the detectable limits of the utilized immunohistochemistry assay. The significance of these findings remains to be confirmed in human subjects with CJD.
Prion protein (PrP) alleles associated with scrapie susceptibility persist in many sheep populations even with high frequencies despite centuries of selection against them. This suggests that scrapie susceptibility alleles have a pleiotropic effect or are associated with fitness or other traits that have been subject to selection.
We genotyped all lambs in two scrapie-free Scottish Blackface sheep flocks for polymorphisms at codons 136, 154 and 171 of the PrP gene. We tested potential associations of the PrP genotype with lamb viability at birth and postnatal survival using a complementary log-log link function and a Weibull proportional hazard model, respectively. Here we show there is an association between PrP genotype, as defined by polymorphisms at codons 154 ad 171, and postnatal lamb survival in the absence of scrapie. Sheep carrying the wild-type ARQ allele have higher postnatal survival rates than sheep carrying the more scrapie-resistant alleles (ARR or AHQ).
The PrP genotypes associated with higher susceptibility to scrapie are associated with improved postnatal survival in the absence of the disease. This association helps to explain the existence, and in many instances the high frequency, of the ARQ allele in sheep populations.
Scrapie is a chronic neurodegenerative disease affecting small ruminants and belongs to the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Scrapie is considered a serious animal disease and it has been notifiable in Norway since 1965. The clinical signs of scrapie might be vague and the farmers, if familiar with the signs of scrapie, are often in the best position for detecting scrapie suspects. In 2002, an anonymous questionnaire survey was conducted in order to assess Norwegian sheep farmers' vigilance of scrapie.
Although the potential detection of a scrapie-positive animal would lead to the destruction of the sheep flock concerned, almost all the farmers (97 %) expressed their willingness to report scrapie suspects. This was most certainly dependent on the Government taking the economic responsibility for the control programme as nearly all the farmers responded that this was an important condition. Listeriosis is relatively common disease in Norwegian sheep and a differential diagnosis for scrapie. In a multinomial logistic regression the reporting behaviour for non-recovering listeriosis cases, used as a measurement of willingness to report scrapie, was examined. The reporting of non-recovering listeriosis cases increased as the knowledge of scrapie-associated signs increased, and the reporting behaviour was dependent on both economic and non-economic values.
The results indicate that in 2002 almost all sheep farmers showed willingness to report any scrapie suspects. Nevertheless there is an underreporting of scrapie suspects and the farmers' awareness and hence their vigilance of scrapie could be improved. Furthermore, the results suggest that to ensure the farmers' compliance to control programmes for serious infectious diseases, the farmers' concerns of non-economic as well as economic values should be considered.
The risk of scrapie infection increases with increased duration and proximity of contact between sheep at lambing. Scrapie infectivity has not been detected in milk but cellular prion protein, the precursor of disease-associated prion protein PrPd, has been found in milk from ruminants. To determine whether milk is able to transmit scrapie, 18 lambs with a prion protein genotype associated with high susceptibility to scrapie (VRQ/VRQ) were fed milk from twelve scrapie-affected ewes of the same genotype, and 15 VRQ/VRQ sheep reared on scrapie-free dams served as controls.
Three lambs fed milk from scrapie-affected ewes were culled due to intercurrent diseases at 43, 44 and 105 days of age respectively, and PrPd was detected in the distal ileum of the first two lambs, whilst PrPd was not found in lymphoreticular tissues in the third lamb. A control lamb, housed in a separate pen and culled at 38 days of age, was also negative for PrPd in a range of tissues. Samples of recto-anal mucosa associated lymphoid tissue collected from the remaining 15 live lambs at seven months of age (between five to seven months after mixing) were positive for PrPd in the scrapie milk recipients, whereas PrPd was not detected in the remaining 14 controls at that time. A subsequent sample collected from control lambs revealed PrPd accumulation in two of five lambs eight months after mixing with scrapie milk recipients suggestive of an early stage of infection via lateral transmission. By contrast, the control sheep housed in the same building but not mixed with the scrapie milk recipients were still negative for PrPd.
The presence of PrPd in distal ileum and rectal mucosa indicates transmission of scrapie from ewe to lamb via milk (or colostrum) although it is not yet clear if such cases would go on to develop clinical disease. The high level of infection in scrapie-milk recipients revealed by rectal mucosal testing at approximately seven months of age may be enhanced or supplemented by intra-recipient infection as these lambs were mixed together after feeding with milk from scrapie-affected ewes and we also observed lateral transmission from these animals to lambs weaned from scrapie-free ewes.
The persistence of infectious biomolecules in soil constitutes a substantial challenge. This holds particularly true with respect to prions, the causative agents of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) such as scrapie, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or chronic wasting disease (CWD). Various studies have indicated that prions are able to persist in soil for years without losing their pathogenic activity. Dissemination of prions into the environment can occur from several sources, e.g., infectious placenta or amniotic fluid of sheep. Furthermore, environmental contamination by saliva, excrements or non-sterilized agricultural organic fertilizer is conceivable. Natural transmission of scrapie in the field seems to occur via the alimentary tract in the majority of cases, and scrapie-free sheep flocks can become infected on pastures where outbreaks of scrapie had been observed before. These findings point to a sustained contagion in the environment, and notably the soil. By using outdoor lysimeters, we simulated a contamination of standard soil with hamster-adapted 263K scrapie prions, and analyzed the presence and biological activity of the soil-associated PrPSc and infectivity by Western blotting and hamster bioassay, respectively. Our results showed that 263K scrapie agent can persist in soil at least over 29 months. Strikingly, not only the contaminated soil itself retained high levels of infectivity, as evidenced by oral administration to Syrian hamsters, but also feeding of aqueous soil extracts was able to induce disease in the reporter animals. We could also demonstrate that PrPSc in soil, extracted after 21 months, provides a catalytically active seed in the protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) reaction. PMCA opens therefore a perspective for considerably improving the detectability of prions in soil samples from the field.
Classical scrapie is a prion disease in sheep and goats. In sheep, susceptibility to disease is genetically influenced by single amino acid substitutions. Genetic breeding programs aimed at enrichment of arginine-171 (171R) prion protein (PrP), the so-called ARR allele, in the sheep population have been demonstrated to be effective in reducing the occurrence of classical scrapie in the field. Understanding the molecular basis for this reduced prevalence would serve the assessment of ARR adaptation. The prion formation mechanism and conversion of PrP from the normal form (PrPC) to the scrapie-associated form (PrPSc) could play a key role in this process. Therefore, we investigated whether the ARR allele substantially contributes to scrapie prion formation in naturally infected heterozygous 171Q/R animals. Two methods were applied to brain tissue of 171Q/R heterozygous sheep with natural scrapie to determine the relative amount of the 171R PrP fraction in PrPres, the proteinase K-resistant PrPSc core. An antibody test differentiating between 171Q and 171R PrP fragments showed that PrPres was mostly composed of the 171Q allelotype. Furthermore, using a novel tool for prion research, endoproteinase Lys-C-digested PrPres yielded substantial amounts of a nonglycosylated and a monoglycosylated PrP fragment comprising codons 114 to 188. Following two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, only marginal amounts (<9%) of 171R PrPres were detected. Enhanced 171Rres proteolytic susceptibility could be excluded. Thus, these data support a nearly zero contribution of 171R PrP in PrPres of 171R/Q field scrapie-infected animals. This is suggestive of a poor adaptation of classical scrapie to this resistance allele under these natural conditions.
Small ruminant post-mortem testing programs were initially designed for monitoring the prevalence of prion disease. They are now considered as a potential alternative to genetic selection for eradicating/controlling classical scrapie at population level. If such policy should be implemented, its success would be crucially dependent on the efficiency of the surveillance system used to identify infected flocks. In this study, we first determined the performance of post-mortem classical scrapie detection in eight naturally affected goat herds (total n = 1961 animals) according to the age at culling. These results provided us with necessary parameters to estimate, through a Monte Carlo simulation model, the performance of scrapie detection in a commercial population. According to this model, whatever the number of tests performed, post mortem surveillance will have limited success in identifying infected herds. These data support the contention that scrapie eradication programs relying solely on post mortem testing in goats will probably fail. Considering the epidemiological and pathological similarities of scrapie in sheep and goats, the efficiency of scrapie surveillance in both species is likely to be similar.
Since 2002, active surveillance programmes have detected numerous atypical scrapie (AS) and classical scrapie cases (CS) in French sheep with almost all the PrP genotypes. The aim of this study was 1) to quantify the genetic risk of AS in French sheep and to compare it with the risk of CS, 2) to quantify the risk of AS associated with the increase of the ARR allele frequency as a result of the current genetic breeding programme against CS.
We obtained genotypes at codons 136, 141, 154 and 171 of the PRNP gene for representative samples of 248 AS and 245 CS cases. We used a random sample of 3,317 scrapie negative animals genotyped at codons 136, 154 and 171 and we made inferences on the position 141 by multiple imputations, using external data. To estimate the risk associated with PrP genotypes, we fitted multivariate logistic regression models and we estimated the prevalence of AS for the different genotypes. Then, we used the risk of AS estimated for the ALRR-ALRR genotype to analyse the risk of detecting an AS case in a flock homogenous for this genotype.
Genotypes most at risk for AS were those including an AFRQ or ALHQ allele while genotypes including a VLRQ allele were less commonly associated with AS. Compared to ALRQ-ALRQ, the ALRR-ALRR genotype was significantly at risk for AS and was very significantly protective for CS. The prevalence of AS among ALRR-ALRR animals was 0.6‰ and was not different from the prevalence in the general population.
In conclusion, further selection of ALRR-ALRR animals will not result in an overall increase of AS prevalence in the French sheep population although this genotype is clearly susceptible to AS. However the probability of detecting AS cases in flocks participating in genetic breeding programme against CS should be considered.
Estimates for the prevalence of sheep infected with classical scrapie are essential for assessing the efficacy of control strategies that have been implemented in Great Britain (GB). Here a back-calculation approach was used to estimate the prevalence in the GB national flock by integrating data on reported cases and the results of abattoir and fallen stock surveys for 2002. Prevalence estimates ranged from 0.33 to 2.06%, depending on the estimates used for the frequencies of prion protein (PrP) genotypes in the national flock and the stage of incubation at which the diagnostic tests used are able to detect infected animals. The risk of infection was found to be higher than that of clinical disease, especially in those PrP genotypes that have a later age at onset of clinical disease. Moreover, results suggest that a high proportion (more than 55%) of infected animals surviving to disease onset die on farm before clinical signs become apparent, which helps account for the high observed prevalence in the fallen stock compared with the abattoir survey. The analyses indicated that attention needs to be given to identifying the stage of incubation at which diagnostic tests are able to detect infected animals and obtaining better demographic data for the GB national flock.
transmissible spongiform encephalopathy; scrapie; epidemiology; prion protein genotype; sheep; back calculation