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Neuropathology of scrapie: a study of the distribution patterns of brain lesions in 222 cases of natural scrapie in sheep, 1982–1991
  1. J. L. N. Wood, BSc, BVetMed, MSc, MRCVS1,1,
  2. I. S. McGill, BSc, BVetMed, MRCVS1,2,
  3. S. H. Done, DVetMed, BA, PhD, FRCVS1 and
  4. R. Bradley, CBE, BVetMed, MSc, FRCPath, FRCVS1
  1. 1 Pathology Department, Central Veterinary Laboratory, New Haw, Weybridge, Surrey KT15 3NB


Detailed neuropathological findings in 222 cases of naturally occurring scrapie from Great Britain are described. The material consisted of formalin-fixed brain from eight breeds of sheep submitted between 1982 and 1991. Paraffinembedded histological sections were made from several specified brain areas, including the medulla oblongata, cerebellum, pons, mesencephalon, diencephalon, septal area, basal ganglia and frontal cortex. Sections were examined by conventional and polarised light microscopy and the type and distribution of the lesions were recorded. Histologically, the lesions included vacuolation of neuronal perikarya and grey matter neuropil, neuronal degeneration (especially ‘dark’ neurons) and loss, a reactive glial (predominantly astrocytic) response and amyloidosis. Vacuolar lesions were present in the cerebral cortex of 37 per cent of cases, centred around the superior frontal gyrus. Vacuolar lesions were detected in the neocortex for as long as sections have been taken from the superior frontal gyrus and are thus probably not a new feature of the disease. The distribution of vacuolation in the grey matter neuropil could be classified into seven patterns. Data from individual breeds of sheep showed that in some breeds there were significant differences in the age at which animals with different patterns of vacuolation died from scrapie.

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  • Mr Wood's present address is Centre for Preventive Medicine, Animal Health Trust, PO Box 5, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 8JH

  • Mr McGill's present address is Prion Interest Group, Shift Ltd, 49 Eresby House, Rutland Gate, London SW7 1BG

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