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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Animal Disease Center » Virus and Prion Research » Research » Research Project #432011

Research Project: Pathobiology, Genetics, and Detection of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

Location: Virus and Prion Research

2017 Annual Report


1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
Objective 1: Investigate the mechanisms of protein misfolding in prion disease, including the genetic determinants of misfolding of the prion protein and the environmental influences on protein misfolding as it relates to prion diseases. Subobjective 1.A: Investigate the differences in the unfolded state of wild-type and disease associated prion proteins to better understand the mechanism of misfolding in genetic prion disease. Subobjective 1.B: Investigate the influence of metal ions on the misfolding of the prion protein in vitro to determine if environmental exposure to metal ions may alter disease progression. Objective 2: Investigate the pathobiology of prion strains in natural hosts, including the influence of prion source genotype on interspecies transmission and the pathobiology of atypical transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Subobjective 2.A: Investigate the pathobiology of atypical TSEs. Subobjective 2.B: Investigate the influence of prion source genotype on interspecies transmission. Objective 3: Investigate sampling methodologies for antemortem detection of prion disease, including the utility of blood sampling as a means to assess prion disease status of affected animals and the utility of environmental sampling for monitoring herd prion disease status. Subobjective 3.A: Investigate the utility of blood sampling as a means to assess prion disease status of affected animals. Subobjective 3.B: Investigate the utility of environmental sampling for monitoring herd prion disease status.


1b. Approach (from AD-416):
The studies will focus on three animal transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) agents found in the United States: bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE); scrapie of sheep and goats; and chronic wasting disease (CWD) of deer, elk, and moose. The research will address sites of protein folding and misfolding as it relates to prion disease, accumulation of misfolded protein in the host, routes of infection, and ante mortem diagnostics with an emphasis on controlled conditions and natural routes of infection. Techniques used will include spectroscopic monitoring of protein folding/misfolding, clinical exams, histopathology, immunohistochemistry, and biochemical analysis of proteins. The enhanced knowledge gained from this work will help understand the underlying mechanisms of prion disease and mitigate the potential for unrecognized epidemic expansions of these diseases in populations of animals that could either directly or indirectly affect food animals.


3. Progress Report:
All 8 project plan milestones for FY17 were fully met. Research efforts directed toward meeting objective 1 of our project plan center around the production of recombinant prion protein from either bacteria or mammalian tissue culture systems and collection of thermodynamic data on the folding of the recombinant prion protein produced. Both bacterial and mammalian expression systems have been established. Thermodynamic data addressing the denatured state of wild-type and a disease associated variant of bovine prion protein has been collected and a manuscript is in preparation. In research pertaining to objective 2, all studies have been initiated and animals are under observation for the development of clinical signs. The animal studies for this objective are long term and will continue until onset of clinical signs. In vitro studies planned in parallel to the animals studies have similarly been initiated and are ongoing. Objective 3 of the project plan focuses on the detection of disease associated prion protein in body fluids and feces collected from a time course study of chronic wasting disease inoculated animals. At this time samples are being collected as planned and methods for analysis are under development.


4. Accomplishments
1. Showed that swine are potential hosts for the scrapie agent. A naturally occurring prion disease has not been recognized in swine, but the agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy does transmit to swine by experimental routes. Swine are thought to have a robust species barrier when exposed to the naturally occurring prion diseases of other species, but the susceptibility of swine to the agent of sheep scrapie has not been thoroughly tested. ARS researchers at Ames, Iowa conducted this experiment to test the susceptibility of swine to U.S. scrapie isolates by intracranial and oral inoculation. Necropsies were done on a subset of animals at approximately 6 months post inoculation (PI): the time the pigs were expected to reach market weight. Remaining pigs were maintained and monitored for clinical signs of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) until study termination at 80 months PI or when removed due to intercurrent disease. Brain samples were examined by multiple diagnostic approaches, and for a subset of pigs in each inoculation group, bioassay in mice expressing porcine prion protein. At 6 months PI, no evidence of scrapie infection was noted by any diagnostic method. However, at 51 months of incubation or greater, 5 animals were positive by one or more diagnostic methods. Furthermore, positive bioassay results were obtained from all inoculated groups (oral and intracranial; market weight and end of study) suggesting that swine are potential hosts for the agent of scrapie. Although the current U.S. feed ban is based on keeping tissues from TSE infected cattle from contaminating animal feed, swine rations in the U.S. could contain animal derived components including materials from scrapie infected sheep and goats. These results indicating the susceptibility of pigs to sheep scrapie, coupled with the limitations of the current feed ban, indicates that a revision of the feed ban may be necessary to protect swine production and potentially human health.

2. Determined that pigs naturally exposed to chronic wasting disease (CWD) may act as a reservoir of CWD infectivity. Chronic wasting disease is a naturally occurring, fatal, neurodegenerative disease of cervids. The potential for swine to serve as a host for the agent of CWD disease is unknown. The purpose of this study was to investigate the susceptibility of swine to the CWD agent following experimental oral or intracranial inoculation. Pigs were assigned to 1 of 3 groups: intracranially inoculated; orally inoculated; or non-inoculated. At market weight age, half of the pigs in each group were tested ('market weight' groups). The remaining pigs ('aged' groups) were allowed to incubate for up to 73 months post inoculation (MPI). Tissues collected at necropsy were examined for disease-associated prion protein (PrPSc) by multiple diagnostic methods. Brain samples from selected pigs were bioassayed in mice expressing porcine prion protein. Some pigs from each inoculated group were positive by one or more tests. Bioassay was positive in 4 out of 5 pigs assayed. Although only small amounts of PrPSc were detected using sensitive methods, this study demonstrates that pigs can serve as hosts for CWD. Detection of infectivity in orally inoculated pigs using mouse bioassay raises the possibility that naturally exposed pigs could act as a reservoir of CWD infectivity. Currently, swine rations in the U.S. could contain animal derived components including materials from deer or elk. In addition, feral swine could be exposed to infected carcasses in areas where CWD is present in wildlife populations. The current feed ban in the U.S. is based exclusively on keeping tissues from TSE infected cattle from entering animal feeds. These results indicating the susceptibility of pigs to CWD, coupled with the limitations of the current feed ban, indicates that a revision of the feed ban may be necessary to protect swine production and potentially human health.

3. Developed a method for amplification and discrimination of the 3 forms of BSE in cattle. The prion protein (PrP) is a protein that is the causative agent of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). The disease process involves conversion of the normal cellular PrP to a pathogenic misfolded conformation. This conversion process can be recreated in the lab using a misfolding amplification process known as real-time quaking induced conversion (RT-QuIC). RT-QuIC allows the detection of minute amounts of the abnormal infectious form of the prion protein by inducing misfolding in a supplied substrate. Although RT-QuIC has been successfully used to detect pathogenic PrP with substrates from a variety of host species, prior to this work bovine prion protein had not been proven for its practical uses for RT-QuIC. We demonstrated that prions from transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) and BSE-infected cattle can be detected with using bovine prion proteins with RT-QuIC, and developed an RT-QuIC based approach to discriminate different forms of BSE. This rapid and robust method, both to detect and discriminate BSE types, is of importance as the economic implications for different types of BSE vary greatly.


Review Publications
Hwang, S., Greenlee, J.J., Nicholson, E.M. 2017. Use of bovine recombinant prion protein and real-time quaking-induced conversion to detect cattle transmissible mink encephalopathy prions and discriminate classical and atypical L- and H-type bovine spongiform encephalopathy. PLoS One. 12(2):e0172391.

Moore, S., Kunkle, R., Greenlee, M., Nicholson, E., Richt, J., Hamir, A., Waters, W., Greenlee, J. 2016. Horizontal transmission of chronic wasting disease in reindeer. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 22(12):2142-2145. doi:10.3201/eid2212.160635.

Moore, S.J., West Greenlee, M.H., Smith, J.D., Vrentas, C.E., Nicholson, E.M., Greenlee, J.J. 2016. A comparison of classical and H-type bovine spongiform encephalopathy associated with E211K prion protein polymorphism in wild type and EK211 cattle following intracranial inoculation. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 3:78.

Greenlee, J.J., Kunkle, R.A., Smith, J.D., West Greenlee, M.H. 2016. Scrapie in swine: a diagnostic challenge. Food Safety. 4(4):110-114.

Kondru, N., Manne, S., Greenlee, J., West Greenlee, H., Anantharam, V., Halbur, P., Kanthasamy, A., Kanthasamy, A. 2017. Integrated organotypic slice cultures and RT-QuIC (OSCAR) assay: implications for translational discovery in protein misfolding diseases. Scientific Reports. 7:43155. doi:10.1038/srep43155.

Mammadova, N., Ghaisas, S., Zenitsky, G., Sakaguchi, D.S., Kanthasamy, A.G., Greenlee, J.J., West Greenlee, M.H. 2017. Lasting retinal injury in a mouse model of blast-induced trauma. American Journal of Pathology. 187(7):1459-1472. doi:10.1016/j.ajpath.2017.03.005.