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.
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.
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.
To deal with the incompleteness of observations and disentangle the complexities of transmission much use has been made of mathematical modelling when investigating the epidemiology of sheep transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) and, in particular, scrapie. Importantly, these modelling approaches allow the incidence of clinical disease to be related to the underlying prevalence of infection, thereby overcoming one of the major difficulties when studying these diseases. Models have been used to investigate the epidemiology of scrapie within individual flocks and at a regional level; to assess the efficacy of different control strategies, especially selective breeding programmes based on prion protein (PrP) genotype; to interpret the results of scrapie surveillance; and to inform the design of surveillance programmes. Furthermore, mathematical modelling has played an important role when assessing the risk to human health posed by the possible presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in sheep. Here, we review the various approaches that have been taken when developing and analysing mathematical models for the epidemiology and control of sheep TSE and assess their impact on our understanding of these diseases. We also identify areas that require further work, discuss future challenges and identify data gaps.
epidemiology; transmissible spongiform encephalopathy; scrapie; mathematical modelling; sheep
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.
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.
Proprietary concentrates and milk replacers were linked to risk for scrapie.
Scrapie is a small ruminant, transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Although in the past scrapie has not been considered a zoonosis, the emergence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, transmissible to humans and experimentally to sheep, indicates that risk exists for small ruminant TSEs in humans. To identify the risk factors for introducing scrapie into sheep flocks, a case-control study was conducted in France from 1999 to 2000. Ninety-four case and 350 control flocks were matched by location and main breed. Three main hypotheses were tested: direct contact between flocks, indirect environmental contact, and foodborne risk. Statistical analysis was performed by using adjusted generalized linear models with the complementary log-log link function, considering flock size as an offset. A notable effect of using proprietary concentrates and milk replacers was observed. The risk was heterogeneous among feed factories. Contacts between flocks were not shown to be a risk factor.
Keywords: Scrapie; Sheep; Transmission; Epidemiology; Case-Control studies; Risk Factors; France; Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy
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.
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.
An accurate estimate of the prevalence of scrapie infection in the Great Britain (GB) sheep flock is essential when assessing any potential risk to human health through exposure to sheep transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). One method for assessing the prevalence is to sample sheep intended for human consumption using a diagnostic test capable of detecting infected animals prior to the onset of clinical signs. An abattoir survey conducted in Great Britain in 1997-1998 tested brain samples from 2809 apparently healthy sheep of which none was found to be positive for scrapie by histopathology or immunohistochemistry (IHC) although 10 were positive for scrapie-associated fibrils (SAF). Subsequently, the tonsils from a subset of the animals sampled were examined using IHC, one of which tested positive. To interpret these results we use a likelihood-based approach, which accounts for the variation in the prevalence of infection with age and test sensitivity and specificity with stage of infection. Combining the results for all of the diagnostic tests yields an estimate of the prevalence of scrapie infection in the GB sheep flock of 0.22% (95% confidence interval: 0.01-0.97%). Moreover, our analysis suggests that all of the diagnostic tests used are very specific (greater than 99%). Indeed, only SAF detection yields a specificity estimate of less than 100%, which helps to account for the high number of samples found to be positive for SAF.
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.
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.
Prions can be amplified by serial protein misfolding cyclic amplification (sPMCA) from the milk of a high proportion of apparently healthy, scrapie exposed sheep with PRNP genotypes not previously associated with high disease penetrance.1 These data strongly suggest the widespread presence of subclinical scrapie infections within scrapie-exposed flocks containing sheep with a range of susceptible PRNP genotypes. These data also lead to the hypothesis that similar subclinical disease states may be common for other animal and human prion diseases. Furthermore, the application of sPMCA to milk provides a method to detect such subclinical disease. Here, we describe the high level amplification of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prions from both ovine and bovine origin, a methodology that will facilitate the detection of any prions secreted within bovine and ovine milk during subclinical and clinical BSE disease.
scrapie; prion; PrP; BSE; milk
Following the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis, the European Union has introduced policies for eradicating transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), including scrapie, from large ruminants. However, recent European Union surveillance has identified a novel prion disease, ‘atypical’ scrapie, substantially different from classical scrapie. It is unknown whether atypical scrapie is naturally transmissible or zoonotic, like BSE. Furthermore, cases have occurred in scrapie-resistant genotypes that are targets for selection in legislated selective breeding programmes. Here, the first epidemiological study of British cases of atypical scrapie is described, focusing on the demographics and trading patterns of farms and using databases of recorded livestock movements. Triplet comparisons found that farms with atypical scrapie stock more sheep than those of the general, non-affected population. They also move larger numbers of animals than control farms, but similar numbers to farms reporting classical scrapie. Whilst there is weak evidence of association through sheep trading of farms reporting classical scrapie, atypical scrapie shows no such evidence, being well-distributed across regions of Great Britain and through the sheep-trading network. Thus, although cases are few in number so far, our study suggests that, should natural transmission of atypical scrapie be occurring at all, it is doing so slowly.
Scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), is a naturally occurring fatal neurodegenerative disease of sheep and goats. This study documents survival periods, pathological findings, and the presence of abnormal prion protein (PrPSc) in genetically susceptible sheep inoculated with scrapie agent. Suffolk lambs (AA/RR/QQ at codons 136, 154, and 171, respectively) aged 4 mo were injected by the intralingual (IL) or intracerebral (IC) route with an inoculum prepared from a pool of scrapie-affected US sheep brains. The animals were euthanized when advanced clinical signs of scrapie were observed. Spongiform lesions in the brain and PrPSc deposits in the central nervous system (CNS) and lymphoid tissues were detected by immunohistochemical and Western blot (WB) testing in all the sheep with clinical prion disease. The mean survival period was 18.3 mo for the sheep inoculated by the IL route and 17.6 mo for those inoculated by the IC route. Since the IC method is occasionally associated with anesthesia-induced complications, intracranial hematoma, and CNS infections, and the IL method is very efficient, it may be more humane to use the latter. However, before this method can be recommended for inoculation of TSE agents, research needs to show that other TSE agents can also transmit disease via the tongue.
Protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) is a method that facilitates the detection of prions from many sources of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Sheep scrapie represents a unique diversity of prion disease agents in a range of susceptible PRNP genotypes. In this study PMCA was assessed on a range of Great Britain (GB) sheep scrapie isolates to determine the applicability to veterinary diagnosis of ovine TSE.
PrPSc amplification by protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) was assessed as a diagnostic tool for field cases of scrapie. The technique was initially applied to thirty-seven isolates of scrapie from diverse geographical locations around GB, and involved sheep of various breeds and PRNP genotypes. All samples were amplified in either VRQ and/or ARQ PrPC substrate. For PrPSc from sheep with at least one VRQ allele, all samples amplified efficiently in VRQ PrPC but only PrPSc from ARH/VRQ sheep amplified in both substrates. PrPSc from ARQ/ARQ sheep displayed two amplification patterns, one that amplified in both substrates and one that only amplified in ARQ PrPC. These amplification patterns were consistent for a further 14/15 flock/farm mates of these sheep. Furthermore experimental scrapie strains SSBP1, Dawson, CH1641 and MRI were analysed. SSBP1 and Dawson (from VRQ/VRQ sheep) amplified in VRQ but not ARQ substrate. MRI scrapie (from ARQ/ARQ sheep) nor CH1641 did not amplify in ARQ or VRQ substrate; these strains required an enhanced PMCA method incorporating polyadenylic acid (poly(A)) to achieve amplification.
PrPsc from 52 classical scrapie GB field isolates amplified in VRQ or ARQ or both substrates and supports the use of PMCA as a rapid assay for the detection of a wide range of ovine classical scrapie infections involving multiple PRNP genotypes and scrapie strains.
Prions; Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy; Scrapie; Sheep; PMCA
In November 2002, an anonymous postal survey of sheep farmers in Great Britain (GB) was conducted to identify factors associated with the flock-level occurrence of scrapie. This survey was undertaken to update an earlier postal survey in 1998, and was the first occasion in which a large-scale postal survey had been repeated.
The results of the 2002 survey indicated that scrapie was more likely to occur in certain geographic regions; in purebred compared to commercial flocks; in larger flocks; in flocks which lambed in group pens compared to those which lambed in individual pens; in flocks which always lambed in the same location compared to those which did not; and in farms which kept certain breeds of sheep. In addition to these factors, the likelihood of the disease occurring in homebred animals was higher in flocks which bred a greater proportion of replacement animals or which bought-in lambs. Finally, within-flock transmission following exposure was more likely to occur in hill flocks compared to other farm types; in flocks which bred a greater proportion of replacement animals; and in farms which kept a certain crossbreed of ewe.
The risk factors identified from the 1998 and 2002 anonymous postal surveys in Great Britain were similar. However, differences between the surveys were identified in the influence of region and of purchasing behaviour on the risk of scrapie. These differences are most likely a consequence of changes in farmer awareness and the impact of the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic, respectively.
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.
A detailed analysis of an outbreak of natural scrapie in a flock of Cheviot sheep is described. A total of 137 cases was reported over 13 years among 1307 sheep born into the flock. The epidemiology of scrapie can only be understood with reference to sheep demography, the population genetics of susceptibility to scrapie, pathogenesis during a long incubation period, and the rate of transmission (by both vertical and horizontal routes), all of which interact in complex ways. A mathematical model incorporating these features is described, parameter values and model inputs are derived from available information from the flock and from independent sources, and model outputs are compared with the field data. The model is able to reproduce key features of the outbreak, including its long duration and the ages of cases. The analysis supports earlier work suggesting that many infected sheep do not survive to show clinical signs, that most cases arise through horizontal transmission, and that there is strong selection against susceptible genotypes. However, important aspects of scrapie epidemiology remain poorly understood, including the possible role of carrier genotypes and of an environmental reservoir of infectivity, and the mechanisms maintaining alleles giving susceptibility to scrapie in the sheep population.
Considerable efforts have been directed toward the identification of small-ruminant prion diseases, i.e., classical and atypical scrapie as well as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Here we report the in-depth molecular analysis of the proteinase K-resistant prion protein core fragment (PrPres) in a highly scrapie-affected goat flock in Greece. The PrPres profile by Western immunoblotting in most animals was that of classical scrapie in sheep. However, in a series of clinically healthy goats we identified a unique C- and N-terminally truncated PrPres fragment, which is akin but not identical to that observed for atypical scrapie. These findings reveal novel aspects of the nature and diversity of the molecular PrPres phenotypes in goats and suggest that these animals display a previously unrecognized prion protein disorder.
Susceptibility of sheep to scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of small ruminants, is strongly influenced by polymorphisms of the prion protein gene (PRNP). Breeding programs have been implemented to increase scrapie resistance in sheep populations; though desirable, a similar approach has not yet been applied in goats. European studies have now suggested that several polymorphisms can modulate scrapie susceptibility in goats: in particular, PRNP variant K222 has been associated with resistance in case-control studies in Italy, France and Greece. In this study we investigated the resistance conferred by this variant using a natural Italian goat scrapie isolate to intracerebrally challenge five goats carrying genotype Q/Q 222 (wild type) and five goats carrying genotype Q/K 222. By the end of the study, all five Q/Q 222 goats had died of scrapie after a mean incubation period of 19 months; one of the five Q/K 222 goats died after 24 months, while the other four were alive and apparently healthy up to the end of the study at 4.5 years post-challenge. All five of these animals were found to be scrapie negative. Statistical analysis showed that the probability of survival of the Q/K 222 goats versus the Q/Q 222 goats was significantly higher (p = 0.002). Our study shows that PRNP gene mutation K222 is strongly associated with resistance to classical scrapie also in experimental conditions, making it a potentially positive target for selection in the frame of breeding programs for resistance to classical scrapie in goats.
Mathematical models of the transmission dynamics of scrapie are used to explore the expected course of an outbreak in a sheep flock, and the potential impacts of different control measures. All models incorporate sheep demography, a long and variable scrapie incubation period, horizontal and vertical routes of transmission and genetic variation in susceptibility. Outputs are compared for models which do and do not incorporate an environmental reservoir of infectivity, and which do and do not incorporate carrier genotypes. Numerical analyses using parameter values consistent with available data indicate that, in a closed flock, scrapie outbreaks may have a duration of several decades, reduce the frequency of susceptible genotypes, and may become endemic if carrier genotypes are present. In an open flock, endemic scrapie is possible even in the absence of carriers. Control measures currently or likely to become available may reduce the incidence of cases but may be fully effective only over a period of several years.
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.
Atypical scrapie was first identified in Norwegian sheep in 1998 and has subsequently been identified in many countries. Retrospective studies have identified cases predating the initial identification of this form of scrapie, and epidemiological studies have indicated that it does not conform to the behaviour of an infectious disease, giving rise to the hypothesis that it represents spontaneous disease.
However, atypical scrapie isolates have been shown to be infectious experimentally, through intracerebral inoculation in transgenic mice and sheep. The first successful challenge of a sheep with 'field' atypical scrapie from an homologous donor sheep was reported in 2007.
This study demonstrates that atypical scrapie has distinct clinical, pathological and biochemical characteristics which are maintained on transmission and sub-passage, and which are distinct from other strains of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in the same host genotype.
Atypical scrapie is consistently transmissible within AHQ homozygous sheep, and the disease phenotype is preserved on sub-passage.