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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 2;5(12):e14186. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014186.

Evidence for varied aetiologies regulating the transmission of prion disease: implications for understanding the heritable basis of prion incubation times.

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  • 1Psychosis Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.



Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) are a group of progressive fatal neurodegenerative disorders, triggered by abnormal folding of the endogenous prion protein molecule. The encoding gene is a major biological factor influencing the length of the asymptomatic period after infection. It remains unclear the extent to which the variation between quantitative trait loci (QTLs) reported in mouse models is due to methodological differences between approaches or genuine differences between traits. With this in mind, our approach to identifying genetic factors has sought to extend the linkage mapping approach traditionally applied, to a series of additional traits, while minimising methodological variability between them. Our approach allows estimations of heritability to be derived, as well as predictions to be made about possible existence of genetic overlap between the various traits.


Our data indicate a surprising degree of heritability (up to 60%). Correlations between traits are also identified. A series of QTLs on chromosomes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 11 and 18 accompany our heritability estimates. However, only a locus on chromosome 11 has a general effect across all 4 models explored.


We have achieved some success in detecting novel and pre-existing QTLs associated with incubation time. However, aside from the general effects described, the model-specific nature of the broader host genetic architecture has also been brought into clearer focus. This suggests that genetic overlap can only partially account for the general heritability of incubation time when factors, such as the nature of the TSE agent and the route of administration are considered. This point is highly relevant to vCJD (a potential threat to public health) where the route of primary importance is oral, while the QTLs being sought derive exclusively from studies of the ic route. Our results highlight the limitations of a single-model approach to QTL-mapping of TSEs.

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