Salivary prions in sheep and deer


Scrapie of sheep and chronic wasting disease (CWD) of cervids are transmissible prion diseases. Milk and placenta have been identified as sources of scrapie prions but do not explain horizontal transmission. In contrast, CWD prions have been reported in saliva, urine and feces, which are thought to be responsible for horizontal transmission. While the titers of CWD prions have been measured in feces, levels in saliva or urine are unknown. Because sheep produce ~17 L/day of saliva, and scrapie prions are present in tongue and salivary glands of infected sheep, we asked if scrapie prions are shed in saliva. We inoculated transgenic (Tg) mice expressing ovine prion protein, Tg(OvPrP) mice, with saliva from seven Cheviot sheep with scrapie. Six of seven samples transmitted prions to Tg(OvPrP) mice with titers of -0.5 to 1.7 log ID50 U/ml. Similarly, inoculation of saliva samples from two mule deer with CWD transmitted prions to Tg(ElkPrP) mice with titers of -1.1 to -0.4 log ID50 U/ml. Assuming similar shedding kinetics for salivary prions as those for fecal prions of deer, we estimated the secreted salivary prion dose over a 10-mo period to be as high as 8.4 log ID50 units for sheep and 7.0 log ID50 units for deer. These estimates are similar to 7.9 log ID50 units of fecal CWD prions for deer. Because saliva is mostly swallowed, salivary prions may reinfect tissues of the gastrointestinal tract and contribute to fecal prion shedding. Salivary prions shed into the environment provide an additional mechanism for horizontal prion transmission.

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Salivary prions in sheep and deer