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J Gen Virol. 2013 Feb;94(Pt 2):432-42. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.046110-0. Epub 2012 Oct 24.

Mucosal transmission and pathogenesis of chronic wasting disease in ferrets.

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Pathobiology, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) of cervids is almost certainly transmitted by mucosal contact with the causative prion, whether by direct (animal-to-animal) or indirect (environmental) means. Yet the sites and mechanisms of prion entry remain to be further understood. This study sought to extend this understanding by demonstrating that ferrets exposed to CWD via several mucosal routes developed infection, CWD prion protein (PrP(CWD)) amplification in lymphoid tissues, neural invasion and florid transmissible spongiform encephalopathy lesions resembling those in native cervid hosts. The ferrets developed extensive PrP(CWD) accumulation in the nervous system, retina and olfactory epithelium, with lesser deposition in tongue, muscle, salivary gland and the vomeronasal organ. PrP(CWD) accumulation in mucosal sites, including upper respiratory tract epithelium, olfactory epithelium and intestinal Peyer's patches, make the shedding of prions by infected ferrets plausible. It was also observed that regionally targeted exposure of the nasopharyngeal mucosa resulted in an increased attack rate when compared with oral exposure. The latter finding suggests that nasal exposure enhances permissiveness to CWD infection. The ferret model has further potential for investigation of portals for initiation of CWD infection.

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