Atypical transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in ruminants

T Baron, A-G Biacabe, J-N Arsac, S Benestad, M H Groschup
Vaccine 2007 July 26, 25 (30): 5625-30
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are associated with the accumulation in infected tissues of a disease-associated form of a host-encoded protein, the prion protein (PrP). Contrary to the normal form of the protein, this form of PrP is partially resistant to protease digestion (PrP(res)). Detailed characterisation of PrP(res) has been intensively investigated in recent years to try and decipher the diversity of TSEs in human and animals. This considerably and unexpectedly enlarged our knowledge about such diseases in ruminants. Previously, such a diversity was essentially shown by the demonstration that scrapie from sheep and goats could have different biological behaviours following transmission of the disease in mice, unlike bovine spongiform encephalopathy from cattle (BSE) which showed a distinct and unique behaviour. The properties of the BSE agent were also demonstrated to be very stable, following transmission to a variety of different species. Molecular studies of PrP(res), followed by transmission studies to mice, gave the first evidence for the accidental transmission of the BSE agent to humans where it induced a variant form of the fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and also to different animal species including a goat in France. This last case was found among a few unusual cases of TSEs in small ruminants that showed some molecular similarities with BSE and which are currently under investigation by transmission studies in mice. The application of the molecular methods to characterise PrP(res) has most recently led to the unexpected discovery of deviant BSE forms in a few affected cattle in Europe and in the United States, which raises the question of a possible different origin at least of some cases of BSE in cattle. Finally, considerable numbers of a new TSE form in small ruminants, referred to as "atypical scrapie" or "Nor98", have meanwhile been identified in most European countries by TSE rapid testing using an assay which recognizes also comparatively less PK resistant PrP(res).

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