Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Biology and BioMed Central.

Journal App

google play app store
Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A major genetic component of BSE susceptibility

Katrin Juling1*, Hermann Schwarzenbacher1, John L Williams23 and Ruedi Fries1

Author Affiliations

1 Chair of Animal Breeding, Technical University of Munich, Hochfeldweg 1, 85354 Freising-Weihenstephan, Germany

2 Division of Genetics and Genomics, Roslin Institute, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9PS, UK

3 CERSA, Parco Tecnologico Padano, Via Einstein 26900 Lodi, Italy

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Biology 2006, 4:33  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-4-33

Published: 2 October 2006



Coding variants of the prion protein gene (PRNP) have been shown to be major determinants for the susceptibility to transmitted prion diseases in humans, mice and sheep. However, to date, the effects of polymorphisms in the coding and regulatory regions of bovine PRNP on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) susceptibility have been considered marginal or non-existent. Here we analysed two insertion/deletion (indel) polymorphisms in the regulatory region of bovine PRNP in BSE affected animals and controls of four independent cattle populations from UK and Germany.


In the present report, we show that two previously reported 23- and 12-bp insertion/deletion (indel) polymorphisms in the regulatory region of bovine PRNP are strongly associated with BSE incidence in cattle. Genotyping of BSE-affected and control animals of UK Holstein, German Holstein, German Brown and German Fleckvieh breeds revealed a significant overrepresentation of the deletion alleles at both polymorphic sites in diseased animals (P = 2.01 × 10-3 and P = 8.66 × 10-5, respectively). The main effect on susceptibility is associated with the 12-bp indel polymorphism. Compared with non-carriers, heterozygous and homozygous carriers of the 12-bp deletion allele possess relatively higher risks of having BSE, ranging from 1.32 to 4.01 and 1.74 to 3.65 in the different breeds. These values correspond to population attributable risks ranging from 35% to 53%.


Our results demonstrate a substantial genetic PRNP associated component for BSE susceptibility in cattle. Although the BSE risk conferred by the deletion allele of the 12-bp indel in the regulatory region of PRNP is substantial, the main risk factor for BSE in cattle is environmental, i.e. exposure to feedstuffs contaminated with the infectious agent.