Open Access Open Badges Research article

Scrapie prevalence in sheep of susceptible genotype is declining in a population subject to breeding for resistance

Thomas J Hagenaars1*, Marielle B Melchior1, Alex Bossers1, Aart Davidse1, Bas Engel2 and Fred G van Zijderveld1

Author Affiliations

1 Central Veterinary Institute of Wageningen UR, P.O. Box 65, 8200 AB Lelystad, the Netherlands

2 Biometris, Wageningen University and Research Centre, P.O. Box 100, 6700 AC Wageningen, the Netherlands

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Veterinary Research 2010, 6:25  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-6-25

Published: 14 May 2010



Susceptibility of sheep to scrapie infection is known to be modulated by the PrP genotype of the animal. In the Netherlands an ambitious scrapie control programme was started in 1998, based on genetic selection of animals for breeding. From 2002 onwards EU regulations required intensive active scrapie surveillance as well as certain control measures in affected flocks.

Here we analyze the data on genotype frequencies and scrapie prevalence in the Dutch sheep population obtained from both surveillance and affected flocks, to identify temporal trends. We also estimate the genotype-specific relative risks to become a detected scrapie case.


We find that the breeding programme has produced a steady increase in the level of genetic scrapie resistance in the Dutch sheep population. We also find that a significant decline in the prevalence of scrapie in tested animals has occurred a number of years after the start of the breeding programme. Most importantly, the estimated scrapie prevalence level per head of susceptible genotype is also declining significantly, indicating that selective breeding causes a population effect.


The Dutch scrapie control programme has produced a steady rise in genetic resistance levels in recent years. A recent decline in the scrapie prevalence per tested sheep of susceptible prion protein genotype indicates that selective breeding causes the desired population effect.