Evidence of scrapie transmission via milk
1 Neuropathology, Veterinary Laboratories Agency Weybridge, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey KT15 3NB, UK
2 Population Biology and Disease Control Research Group, Royal Veterinary College, North Mymms, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA, UK
3 Animal Services Unit, Veterinary Laboratories Agency Weybridge, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey KT15 3NB, UK
BMC Veterinary Research 2008, 4:14 doi:10.1186/1746-6148-4-14Published: 8 April 2008
The risk of scrapie infection increases with increased duration and proximity of contact between sheep at lambing. Scrapie infectivity has not been detected in milk but cellular prion protein, the precursor of disease-associated prion protein PrPd, has been found in milk from ruminants. To determine whether milk is able to transmit scrapie, 18 lambs with a prion protein genotype associated with high susceptibility to scrapie (VRQ/VRQ) were fed milk from twelve scrapie-affected ewes of the same genotype, and 15 VRQ/VRQ sheep reared on scrapie-free dams served as controls.
Three lambs fed milk from scrapie-affected ewes were culled due to intercurrent diseases at 43, 44 and 105 days of age respectively, and PrPd was detected in the distal ileum of the first two lambs, whilst PrPd was not found in lymphoreticular tissues in the third lamb. A control lamb, housed in a separate pen and culled at 38 days of age, was also negative for PrPd in a range of tissues. Samples of recto-anal mucosa associated lymphoid tissue collected from the remaining 15 live lambs at seven months of age (between five to seven months after mixing) were positive for PrPd in the scrapie milk recipients, whereas PrPd was not detected in the remaining 14 controls at that time. A subsequent sample collected from control lambs revealed PrPd accumulation in two of five lambs eight months after mixing with scrapie milk recipients suggestive of an early stage of infection via lateral transmission. By contrast, the control sheep housed in the same building but not mixed with the scrapie milk recipients were still negative for PrPd.
The presence of PrPd in distal ileum and rectal mucosa indicates transmission of scrapie from ewe to lamb via milk (or colostrum) although it is not yet clear if such cases would go on to develop clinical disease. The high level of infection in scrapie-milk recipients revealed by rectal mucosal testing at approximately seven months of age may be enhanced or supplemented by intra-recipient infection as these lambs were mixed together after feeding with milk from scrapie-affected ewes and we also observed lateral transmission from these animals to lambs weaned from scrapie-free ewes.