Samples of tissue from the central nervous system (CNS), the lymphoreticular system (LRS) and the rectal mucosa of a large number of scrapie-exposed sheep, with and without signs of clinical disease, were examined immunohistochemically for evidence of disease-associated prion protein (PrPd). The rectal mucosa has received almost no attention so far in scrapie diagnosis, despite its abundant rectoanal mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue, and its accessibility. The scrapie-confirmed cases included 244 with clinical disease, of which 237 (97·1 per cent) were positive in the rectal mucosa, and 121 apparently healthy sheep, of which 104 (86 per cent) were positive in the rectal mucosa. PrPd was detected in 86·4 to 91·5 per cent of the other LRS tissues of the healthy sheep examined and in 77·7 per cent of their CNS tissues. The stage of infection, therefore, affected the probability of a positive result in the rectal mucosa, whereas the breed, PrP genotype, age and sex had little or no independent effect. Accumulations of PrPd were observed in the rectal mucosa and other LRS tissues of VRQ/ARR sheep with preclinical and clinical scrapie, albeit with a lower frequency and magnitude than in sheep of other PrP genotypes. Western immunoblotting analyses of samples of rectal mucosa gave the characteristic PrP glycoprofile, with a sensitivity similar to that of immunohistochemistry.
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