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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43060. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043060. Epub 2012 Aug 14.

Relationships between PrPSc stability and incubation time for United States scrapie isolates in a natural host system.

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  • 1National Animal Disease Center, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Ames, Iowa, USA.


Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), including scrapie in sheep (Ovis aries), are fatal neurodegenerative diseases caused by the misfolding of the cellular prion protein (PrP(C)) into a â-rich conformer (PrP(Sc)) that accumulates into higher-order structures in the brain and other tissues. Distinct strains of TSEs exist, characterized by different pathologic profiles upon passage into rodents and representing distinct conformations of PrP(Sc). One biochemical method of distinguishing strains is the stability of PrP(Sc) as determined by unfolding in guanidine hydrochloride (GdnHCl), which is tightly and positively correlated with the incubation time of disease upon passage into mice. Here, we utilize a rapid, protease-free version of the stability assay to characterize naturally occurring scrapie samples, including a fast-acting scrapie inoculum for which incubation time is highly dependent on the amino acid at codon 136 of the prion protein. We utilize the stability methodology to identify the presence of two distinct isolates in the inoculum, and compare isolate properties to those of a host-stabilized reference scrapie isolate (NADC 13-7) in order to assess the stability/incubation time correlation in a natural host system. We demonstrate the utility of the stability methodology in characterizing TSE isolates throughout serial passage in livestock, which is applicable to a range of natural host systems, including strains of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and chronic wasting disease.

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