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The interpretation of disease phenotypes to identify TSE strains in mice: characterisation of BSE using PrPSc distribution patterns in the brain

Erica Corda1, Katy E Beck2, Rosemary E Sallis2, Christopher M Vickery2, Margaret Denyer2, Paul R Webb2, Susan J Bellworthy2, Yvonne I Spencer2, Marion M Simmons2 and John Spiropoulos2*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Milan, Milan, Italy

2 Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Woodham Lane, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 3NB, United Kingdom

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Veterinary Research 2012, 43:86  doi:10.1186/1297-9716-43-86

Published: 17 December 2012


In individual animals affected by transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, different disease phenotypes can be identified which are attributed to different strains of the agent. In the absence of reliable technology to fully characterise the agent, classification of disease phenotype has been used as a strain typing tool which can be applied in any host. This approach uses standardised data on biological parameters, established for a single host, to allow comparison of different prion sources. Traditionally prion strain characterisation in wild type mice is based on incubation periods and lesion profiles after the stabilisation of the agent into the new host which requires serial passages. Such analysis can take many years, due to prolonged incubation periods. The current study demonstrates that the PrPSc patterns produced by one serial passage in wild type mice of bovine or ovine BSE were consistent, stable and showed minimal and predictable differences from mouse-stabilised reference strains. This biological property makes PrPSc deposition pattern mapping a powerful tool in the identification and definition of TSE strains on primary isolation, making the process of characterisation faster and cheaper than a serial passage protocol. It can be applied to individual mice and therefore it is better suited to identify strain diversity within single inocula in case of co-infections or identify strains in cases where insufficient mice succumb to disease for robust lesion profiles to be constructed. The detailed description presented in this study provides a reference document for identifying BSE in wild type mice.