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Nature. 2009 Sep 24;461(7263):529-32. doi: 10.1038/nature08289. Epub 2009 Sep 9.

Asymptomatic deer excrete infectious prions in faeces.

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Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143 USA.

Erratum in

  • Nature. 2010 Jul 29;466(7306):652. Dosage error in article text.


Infectious prion diseases-scrapie of sheep and chronic wasting disease (CWD) of several species in the deer family-are transmitted naturally within affected host populations. Although several possible sources of contagion have been identified in excretions and secretions from symptomatic animals, the biological importance of these sources in sustaining epidemics remains unclear. Here we show that asymptomatic CWD-infected mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) excrete CWD prions in their faeces long before they develop clinical signs of prion disease. Intracerebral inoculation of irradiated deer faeces into transgenic mice overexpressing cervid prion protein (PrP) revealed infectivity in 14 of 15 faecal samples collected from five deer at 7-11 months before the onset of neurological disease. Although prion concentrations in deer faeces were considerably lower than in brain tissue from the same deer collected at the end of the disease, the estimated total infectious dose excreted in faeces by an infected deer over the disease course may approximate the total contained in a brain. Prolonged faecal prion excretion by infected deer provides a plausible natural mechanism that might explain the high incidence and efficient horizontal transmission of CWD within deer herds, as well as prion transmission among other susceptible cervids.

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