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Heart rate variability analysis in sheep affected by transmissible spongiform encephalopathies

Timm Konold* and Gemma E Bone

Author Affiliations

Pathology & Host Susceptibility, Neuropathology, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency Weybridge, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey KT15 3NB, UK

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:539  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-539

Published: 14 December 2011



The function of the autonomic nervous system can be assessed by determining heart rate variability (HRV), which is impaired in some brainstem diseases in humans. Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in sheep are diseases characterised by accumulation of disease-associated prion protein in the brainstem, including nuclei of the parasympathetic nervous system. This study was undertaken to assess whether analysis of HRV can be used as an aid in the diagnosis of TSEs in clinically affected, naturally or experimentally infected sheep.


When HRV indices were compared between 41 clinical TSE cases (18 sheep infected with scrapie and 23 sheep infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy), 11 control sheep and six sheep reported as scrapie suspects or dosed with BSE brain homogenate, which were not confirmed as TSE cases by postmortem tests, no significant differences were found between the groups. Median heart rate was significantly different but only when sheep were grouped by gender: it was higher in female TSE cases than in control sheep and higher in female than castrated male ovine classical BSE cases.


HRV analysis was not useful as a diagnostic aid for TSEs of sheep.