Characterisation of the agent strain in sporadic and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease by transmission to wild-type mice
Ritchie, Diane Louise
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) strains are defined by their biological properties on transmission to wild-type mice, specifically by their characteristic incubation periods and patterns of vacuolar pathology (‘lesion profiles’) in the brain. Whilst a single TSE strain has been identified in variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the phenotypic heterogeneity observed in sporadic CJD (sCJD) implies the existence of multiple strains of agent. These distinct strains are proposed to be enciphered by the different conformers of abnormal prion protein (PrP), recognised as different protease resistant PrP (PrPres) types by Western blotting (type 1 or type 2) and are thought to be substantially influenced by the different prion protein gene (PRNP) codon 129 polymorphism (MM, MV and VV). To test the relationship between disease phenotype and agent strain, this study carried out a full characterisation of the sCJD agent by primary transmission of brain tissue from 27 sCJD cases (comprising all six possible combinations of PRNP codon 129 genotype and PrPres type) in panels of wild-type mice using the standard strain typing properties of incubation period and lesion profiles, plus a full analysis of PrP in the mouse brain and the PrPres molecular subtypes present. Results were directly compared with the transmission characteristics of brain tissue from 10 vCJD cases. The characterisation of the agent strain in sCJD and vCJD was extended to include analysis of subsequent mouse-to-mouse passages. In an additional investigation, wild-type mice were experimentally challenged with a wide-range of lymphoid tissues, neural tissues and biological fluids from vCJD and sCJD patients in order to investigate the extent of peripheral involvement in CJD and to determine whether the agent is subject to any tissue-specific modifications. Analysis of all 27 sCJD sources demonstrated the existence of two strains of agent, one associated with the MM1/MV1 subgroups and the other associated with the MM2 subgroup, which could be distinguished by their transmission properties in the mice. The lack of transmission in mice challenged with VV1, MV2 and VV2 tissues provided evidence of at least one further sCJD strain. In contrast, all 10 vCJD sources resulted in consistent incubation periods and lesion profiles, suggesting that all 10 patients investigated were infected with the same strain of agent. Overall, the observation that PrPres type in sCJD and vCJD was maintained on transmission is consistent with the proposition that PrPres type plays a role in enciphering strain-specific information. Experimental transmissions from peripheral tissues extended the evidence for a peripheral infection in vCJD. However, comparison of incubation periods and lesion profiles from transmission of brain and peripheral tissues showed no evidence of tissue-specific modification in the biological properties of the agent. Furthermore, the detection of low levels of infectivity in a sCJD buffy coat sample provides supporting evidence for a peripheral involvement in sCJD. This study highlights the complex relationship between disease phenotype, PRNP codon 129 genotype, PrPres type and agent strain in sCJD and vCJD. Overall, this study confirms that multiple strains of agent are associated with sCJD, some of which successfully propagate in wild-type mice but none of which are identical to the agent responsible for vCJD. Importantly, the sCJD strains identified here by their biological properties partially correlated with the current sub-classification system for sCJD which is based on the clinical and pathological phenotype of the disease.