- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
BACKGROUND ON PRION DISEASES
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE), or prion diseases, are a family of inevitably fatal neurodegenerative disorders affecting a variety of mammalian species. These diseases include scrapie in sheep and goats; bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, “mad cow” disease) in cattle; chronic wasting disease (CWD) in North American deer, elk and moose; transmissible mink encephalopathy; and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD, sporadic, familial and variant forms) and kuru in humans. These diseases are characterized by long incubation periods, spongiform degeneration of the brain and accumulation of an abnormally folded isoform of the prion protein, designated PrPSc, in brain tissue (Prusiner 1998).
CWD and scrapie are the only TSEs that appear to be environmentally transmitted. Therefore, this chapter focuses primarily on these two TSEs. Scrapie has been known in sheep for at least 250 years (McGowan 1922). Most clinically infected sheep exhibit the obvious feature of excessive rubbing and scratching of the skin; the term “scrapie” derives from this symptom. The peak incidence of scrapie occurs in sheep three to four years of age although the earliest cases are seen at 18 months and the latest in animals older than 10 years (Dickinson 1976). The origin of the scrapie agent is unknown, but a familial pattern exists in natural sheep scrapie suggesting that genetics and, possibly, vertical transmission are important. Scrapie has a world-wide distribution and has been documented wherever sheep are raised, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand.
CWD was first identified at a Colorado research facility in 1967 (Williams and Young 1980) and has since been identified in captive cervid populations in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New York, Nebraska, Montana, Minnesota, Kansas and Alberta (Fig. 1⇓). In the free-ranging cervid population, CWD has been found in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Utah, South Dakota, Saskatchewan, New Mexico, Nebraska, Illinois, …