The signature of scrapie: differences in the PrP genotype profile of scrapie-affected and scrapie-free UK sheep flocks
Baylis, M.; Houston, F.; Goldmann, W.; Hunter, N.; McLean, A.R.
PROCEEDINGS. Biological Sciences 267(1457): 2029-2035
ISSN/ISBN: 0962-8452 PMID: 11416903 Accession: 080258721
The amino-acid sequence of the PrP protein plays an important role in determining whether sheep are susceptible to scrapie. Although the genetics of scrapie susceptibility are now well understood, there have been few studies of the PrP gene at the population level, especially in commercially farmed sheep. Here we describe the PrP genetic profiles of the breeding stock of four UK sheep flocks, comprising nearly 650 animals in total. Two flocks had been scrapie affected for about eight years and two were scrapie free. Scrapie-resistant PrP genotypes predominated in all flocks but highly susceptible genotypes were present in each case. The distribution of PrP genotypes was similar in the scrapie-affected and scrapie-free flocks. The former, however, showed a slight but significant skew towards more susceptible genotypes despite their previous losses of susceptible sheep. Surprisingly, this skew was apparent in younger, but not older, sheep. We suggest that these patterns may occur if sheep flocks destined to become scrapie affected are predisposed by a genetic profile skewed towards susceptibility. The age structure of the scrapie-affected flocks suggests that the number of losses attributable directly or indirectly to scrapie considerably exceeds that recognized by the farmers, and also that significant losses may occur even in sheep of a moderately susceptible genotype. Similar patterns were not detected in the scrapie-free flocks, indicating that these losses are associated with scrapie infection as well as genotype.