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Classical scrapie prions in ovine blood are associated with B lymphocytes and platelet-rich plasma

Rohana P Dassanayake1*, David A Schneider2, Thomas C Truscott2, Alan J Young3, Dongyue Zhuang2 and Katherine I O'Rourke12

Author affiliations

1 Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-7040 USA

2 Animal Disease Research Unit, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pullman, WA 99164-6630 USA

3 Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Science, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Veterinary Research 2011, 7:75  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-7-75

Published: 23 November 2011



Classical scrapie is a naturally occurring transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of sheep and goats characterized by cellular accumulation of abnormal isoforms of prion protein (PrPSc) in the central nervous system and the follicles of peripheral lymphoid tissues. Previous studies have shown that the whole blood and buffy coat blood fraction of scrapie infected sheep harbor prion infectivity. Although PrPSc has been detected in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), plasma, and more recently within a subpopulation of B lymphocytes, the infectivity status of these cells and plasma in sheep remains unknown. Therefore, the objective of this study was to determine whether circulating PBMCs, B lymphocytes and platelets from classical scrapie infected sheep harbor prion infectivity using a sheep bioassay.


Serial rectal mucosal biopsy and immunohistochemistry were used to detect preclinical infection in lambs transfused with whole blood or blood cell fractions from preclinical or clinical scrapie infected sheep. PrPSc immunolabeling was detected in antemortem rectal and postmortem lymphoid tissues from recipient lambs receiving PBMCs (15/15), CD72+ B lymphocytes (3/3), CD21+ B lymphocytes (3/3) or platelet-rich plasma (2/3) fractions. As expected, whole blood (11/13) and buffy coat (5/5) recipients showed positive PrPSc labeling in lymphoid follicles. However, at 549 days post-transfusion, PrPSc was not detected in rectal or other lymphoid tissues in three sheep receiving platelet-poor plasma fraction.


Prion infectivity was detected in circulating PBMCs, CD72+ pan B lymphocytes, the CD21+ subpopulation of B lymphocytes and platelet-rich plasma of classical scrapie infected sheep using a sheep bioassay. Combining platelets with B lymphocytes might enhance PrPSc detection levels in blood samples.