, Volume 116, Issue 5, pp 547-559
Date: 17 Sep 2008

Neuroanatomical distribution of abnormal prion protein in naturally occurring atypical scrapie cases in Great Britain

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Scrapie belongs to a group of diseases known as the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases. Two different categories of naturally occurring scrapie have been identified: classical scrapie, which was first recorded around 1750, and atypical scrapie or ‘Nor-98’, which was first identified in Norway in 1998. The molecular characteristics of atypical scrapie have been well defined, but detailed descriptions of the neuropathological phenotype are rare since the majority of cases have been detected through active surveillance programmes where only brainstem and cerebellum are collected for statutory diagnosis. In order to characterise the neuropathology of naturally occurring atypical scrapie in sheep, we examined multiple brain levels from 15 whole brains from field cases of atypical scrapie, both clinical suspects and fallen stock, collected in Great Britain between 2004 and 2006. We found that the distribution of disease-associated prion protein (PrPSc) and vacuolation in atypical scrapie cases are very different to both classical scrapie and experimental bovine spongiform encephalopathy in sheep. Immunolabelling for PrPSc is mild and restricted at the obex and more intense and widespread rostrally, particularly in the cerebellum, substantia nigra, thalamus and basal nuclei. Intracellular immunolabelling types are not seen, but distinctive white matter immunolabelling is widespread. Vacuolation associated with PrPSc deposits was not observed in the brainstem neuroanatomical areas commonly affected in classical scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, but was instead most prominent in the cerebellar cortex and neocortex. This is the largest comprehensive descriptive study of atypical scrapie pathology to date, and provides baseline data against which other natural or experimental cases can be compared. It also reinforces the current recommendation to collect cerebellum in addition to brainstem to enable confident confirmation of this distinct disease phenotype within surveillance programmes.