JOURNAL ARTICLE

Enhanced virulence of sheep-passaged bovine spongiform encephalopathy agent is revealed by decreased polymorphism barriers in prion protein conversion studies

Jan Priem, Jan P M Langeveld, Lucien J M van Keulen, Fred G van Zijderveld, Olivier Andreoletti, Alex Bossers
Journal of Virology 2014, 88 (5): 2903-12
24371051

UNLABELLED: Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) can be efficiently transmitted to small ruminants (sheep and goats) with certain prion protein (PrP) genotypes. Polymorphisms in PrP of both the host and donor influence the transmission efficiency of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in general. These polymorphisms in PrP also modulate the PrP conversion underlying TSE agent replication. Here we demonstrate that single-round protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) can be used to assess species and polymorphism barriers at the molecular level. We assessed those within and between the ovine and bovine species in vitro using a variety of natural scrapie and experimentally generated cross-species BSE agents. These BSE agents include ovBSE-ARQ isolates (BSE derived from sheep having the ARQ/ARQ PrP genotype), and two unique BSE-derived variants: BSE passaged in VRQ/VRQ sheep and a cow BSE agent isolate generated by back-transmission of ovBSE-ARQ into its original host. PMCA allowed us to quantitatively determine PrP conversion profiles that correlated with known in vivo transmissibility and susceptibility in the two ruminant species in which strain-specific molecular signatures, like its molecular weight after protease digestion, were maintained. Furthermore, both BSE agent isolates from ARQ and VRQ sheep demonstrated a surprising transmission profile in which efficient transmissions to both sheep and bovine variants was combined. Finally, all data support the notion that ARQ-derived sheep BSE points to a significant increase in virulence compared to all other tested scrapie- and BSE-derived variants reflected by the increased conversion efficiencies of previously inefficient convertible PrP variants (including the so-called "resistant" sheep ARR variant).

IMPORTANCE: Prion diseases such as scrapie in sheep and goats, BSE in cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans are fatal neurodegenerative diseases caused by prions. BSE is known to be transmissible to a variety of hosts, including sheep and humans. Based on the typical BSE agent strain signatures and epidemiological data, the occurrence of a novel variant of CJD in humans was linked to BSE occurrence in the United Kingdom. Measures, including genetic selection of sheep toward less susceptible PrP genotypes, have been implemented to lower the risk of BSE transmission into sheep, since the disease could potentially spread into a natural reservoir. In this study, we demonstrated using molecular PrP conversion studies that when BSE is first transmitted through sheep, the host range is modified significantly and the PrP converting potency increased, allowing the ovine BSE to transmit more efficiently than cow BSE into supposedly less susceptible hosts.

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