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Prion. 2012 Apr-Jun;6(2):153-62. doi: 10.4161/pri.19640. Epub 2012 Apr 1.

The role of genetics in chronic wasting disease of North American cervids.

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Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a major concern for the management of North American cervid populations. This fatal prion disease has led to declines in populations which have high CWD prevalence and areas with both high and low infection rates have experienced economic losses in wildlife recreation and fears of potential spill-over into livestock or humans. Research from human and veterinary medicine has established that the prion protein gene (Prnp) encodes the protein responsible for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Polymorphisms in the Prnp gene can lead to different prion forms that moderate individual susceptibility to and progression of TSE infection. Prnp genes have been sequenced in a number of cervid species including those currently infected by CWD (elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose) and those for which susceptibility is not yet determined (caribou, fallow deer, sika deer). Over thousands of sequences examined, the Prnp gene is remarkably conserved within the family Cervidae; only 16 amino acid polymorphisms have been reported within the 256 amino acid open reading frame in the third exon of the Prnp gene. Some of these polymorphisms have been associated with lower rates of CWD infection and slower progression of clinical CWD. Here we review the body of research on Prnp genetics of North American cervids. Specifically, we focus on known polymorphisms in the Prnp gene, observed genotypic differences in CWD infection rates and clinical progression, mechanisms for genetic TSE resistance related to both the cervid host and the prion agent and potential for natural selection for CWD-resistance. We also identify gaps in our knowledge that require future research.

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