Sections of medulla oblongata, taken at the level of the obex, palatine tonsil and medial retropharyngeal lymph node from 10,269 captive Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni), were examined by immunohistochemical staining with monoclonal antibody for the prion protein associated with the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of cervids, chronic wasting disease (PrpCWD) The protein was detected in 226 of them. On the basis of the anatomical location of the deposits in the brainstem of 183 elk, four distinct patterns of distribution of PrPCWD within the parasympathetic region of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve and the adjacent nuclei were observed. Mild gross lesions of chronic wasting disease (serous atrophy of fat) were observed in only three elk, all with spongiform degeneration; the other elk were considered to be in the preclinical stage of the disease. in contrast with the relatively predictable distribution of prion protein (PrP) in the brain and cranial nodes of sheep and mule deer, the distribution of PrpCWD in the brain and nodes of the elk was more variable and unrelated to their PrP genotype. One hundred and fifty-five of the 226 positive elk had deposits of PrpCWD in the brainstem and lymphoid tissues, 43 had deposits only in the lymphoid tissue and 28 had deposits only in the brainstem.