Atypical scrapie/Nor98 in a sheep from New Zealand

In a consignment of sheep brains from NZ, to be used in Europe as negative control material in scrapie rapid screening test evaluations, brain samples from 1 sheep (no. 1512) gave the following initially confusing results in various screening tests: the brainstem repeatedly produced negative results in 2 very similar screening kits (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA]-1, ELISA-2), a macerate made from brainstem and cerebellum returned a clearly positive result in ELISA-2, and the macerate and a brainstem sample gave negative results in a third screening test (ELISA-3). In subsequent testing, cerebellum tissue alone tested strongly positive in ELISA-1 and produced a banding pattern very similar to atypical scrapie/Nor98 in a confirmatory Western blot (WB). The macerate showed weak staining in the confirmatory WB but presented a staining pattern identical to atypical scrapie/Nor98 in the scrapie-associated fibril WB. The latter test confirmed conclusively the first case of atypical scrapie/Nor98 in a sheep from NZ. Other parts of the brain either tested negative or very weak positive in ELISA-2 and in WBs, or tested with negative results by histopathology and immunohistochemistry. It appears that sheep no. 1512 is a case of atypical scrapie/Nor98 in which the abnormal prion protein was detected mainly in the cerebellum. This case emphasises the need to retain brainstem, and cerebral and cerebellar tissues, as frozen and fixed materials, for conclusive confirmatory testing. Furthermore, consideration should be given to which screening method to use. The report is from Biosecurity New Zealand, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, New Zealand.

Kittelberger R, Chaplin MJ, Simmons MM, et al. J Vet Diagn Invest 2010; 22(6):863-875.

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