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Monday, January 29 • 1:40pm - 2:00pm
SYMPOSIA-03: Transmission of Infectious Prions in Plant Tissue

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AUTHORS. Jay R. Schneider, US Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center

ABSTRACT. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) belongs to a family of invariably fatal neurodegenerative diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs or prion diseases) and is currently known to affect North American deer, elk and moose species. Prion diseases are caused by an infectious misfolded protein referred to as a “prion protein”. Chronic wasting disease infected animals in clinical and pre-clinical phases shed infectious prions into the environment via secretions, excreta and decomposing carcasses. Previous work has implicated soil as an environmental reservoir for prions that may contribute to disease spread. Vegetation is widespread in CWD-contaminated environments and plants have demonstrated the ability to internalize prions. Our study examined whether prions internalized by common crop plants can cause disease in susceptible hosts. CD1 mice were orally challenged with stem and leaf tissues from a variety of plants grown in culture media containing prions. These plants included: the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, maize (Zea mays), barley (Hordeum vulgare) and alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Mice were observed for clinical signs of TSE and prion infection was confirmed by testing brain and spleen tissue for the presence of disease-associated prion protein by serial misfolding cyclic amplification (sPMCA) and protein immunoblotting. To date, approximately one third of all mice challenged with prion-contaminated crop plants tested positive as determined by sPMCA. Initial sPMCA testing of spleens has detected disease-associated prion protein in peripheral tissue outside the central nervous system in some mice that consumed prion-contaminated plants. Our results suggest plants represent a currently under-investigated environmental factor that may contribute to CWD transmission and exposure. As CWD continues to increase in both distribution and prevalence understanding the role soil and plants contribute to environmental transmission maybe a critical element in managing CWD.

Monday January 29, 2018 1:40pm - 2:00pm CST