Friday, May 04, 2018

Mineral licks as environmental reservoirs of chronic wasting disease prions

Mineral licks as environmental reservoirs of chronic wasting disease prions


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of deer, elk, moose, and reindeer (cervids) caused by misfolded prion proteins. The disease has been reported across North America and recently discovered in northern Europe. Transmission of CWD in wild cervid populations can occur through environmental routes, but limited ability to detect prions in environmental samples has prevented the identification of potential transmission “hot spots”. We establish widespread CWD prion contamination of mineral licks used by free-ranging cervids in an enzootic area in Wisconsin, USA. We show mineral licks can serve as reservoirs of CWD prions and thus facilitate disease transmission. Furthermore, mineral licks attract livestock and other wildlife that also obtain mineral nutrients via soil and water consumption. Exposure to CWD prions at mineral licks provides potential for cross-species transmission to wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. Managing deer use of mineral licks warrants further consideration to help control outbreaks of CWD.



Our results demonstrate that CWD-infected white-tailed deer deposit prions at mineral licks they visit. Although the mechanism of prion deposition is unknown, we suspect deposition of saliva by infected deer during ingestion of soil and water at mineral licks has the highest potential to facilitate indirect transmission to susceptible deer. Saliva from white-tailed deer infected with CWD contains on the order of 1–5 infectious doses (ID50) per 10 mL as quantified by real-time quaking-induced conversion, where an ID50 is the dose of CWD prions capable of infecting half of the transgenic mice expressing cervid prion protein [48]. Frequent visitation by infected cervids could allow mineral licks to become potential “hot spots” for indirect transmission of CWD [49]. Currently, little is known about the relative importance of direct contact and environmental routes of CWD transmission in free-ranging cervids [10]. Thus, how artificial and natural mineral licks contribute to current and future CWD infection in cervids and whether licks should be managed to control cervid use are important questions for further research.

Despite the relatively recent detection of CWD in Wisconsin (2001) and the moderate incidence of infection (6–19% prevalence in adult deer in the area sampled at the time of sample collection), our results suggest contamination of mineral licks in the CWD outbreak zone is widespread. This finding suggests that mineral licks may serve as reservoirs of CWD prions that contribute to disease transmission to susceptible animals. Although the levels of CWD prions in the samples analyzed appears low, we note that the association of prions with clay minerals often present at mineral licks can dramatically enhance disease transmission via the oral route of exposure [3031]. For hamster-adapted scrapie prions binding to montmorillonite clay particles enhanced transmission by a factor of 680, however, an upper bound on the enhancement factor could not be assigned [3031]. At present, the degree to which binding to clay mineral particles enhances CWD transmission to deer via the oral (or nasal) route of exposure is not known. Furthermore, repeated oral exposure to prions is associated with increased likelihood of disease transmission [50]. Differences in the sialyation status of N-linked glycans between brain-derived and secreted/excreted PrPCWD may impact oral infectivity [51]. Cervid species that avoid interspecific contact make use of the same mineral lick sites [49], potentially leading to interspecies transmission. Mineral licks also attract livestock and other wildlife that supplement mineral intake via soil and water consumption, exposing these animals to CWD prions. Exposure of predators and scavengers to CWD prions via consumption of infected tissue has been previously documented [23]; our results suggest that environmental exposure of non-cervid animal groups can also occur via environmental routes.

We also detected CWD prions in fecal samples collected in proximity to a mineral lick, indicating that fecal excretion represents a route of CWD deposition into the environment with potential transmission to susceptible cervids [19]. Deposition of fecal pellets by white-tailed deer near bait sites increases with higher deer visitation [52] and similar patterns probably occur at mineral licks. Thus, increased local fecal deposition by CWD-infected deer likely contributes to increased environmental concentrations of prions in and around mineral licks. Deer generally avoid consumption of feces [52]; however, the apparent long-term duration of prion infectivity in the environment [2729], the enhanced disease transmission by soil-bound prions combined with the repeated visitation, long-term existence of and multi-generational use of mineral licks suggest the impact of concentrated environmental contamination on the dynamics of disease transmission warrants further investigation. Recent laboratory research indicates plants grown in prion-contaminated soil can accumulate prions [53]. Our data suggest that plants growing near contaminated mineral licks may warrant investigation as a source of prions for foraging animals. Areas where cervids congregate for mineral consumption, feeding and baiting sites, winter yarding, wallows [54] or other activities where CWD prions are deposited in the environment may also provide potential long-term reservoirs for transmission to cervid and non-cervid species.


We used mb-PMCA to detect CWD in soil and water from mineral licks naturally contaminated with prions and used by free-ranging deer, livestock, and non-cervid wildlife species. Detection of prions in environmental reservoirs represents an important first step in understanding the contribution of environmental transmission to CWD epizootics and potential for cross-species transmission. The present study characterized an environmental prion reservoir by (1) identifying an apparent “hot spot” of deposition and potential exposure to both cervid and non-cervid species; (2) indicating CWD prions shed by free-ranging cervids are present in areas of frequent use leading to environmental contamination and potentially plant uptake; and (3) motivating investigation of the exposure and susceptibility of non-cervid species to CWD contaminated soil, water, and plant materials. Future research should be directed at quantifying CWD prion concentrations at mineral licks and other areas where cervids congregate, determining the persistence of prion infectivity at these sites, delineating spatial-temporal patterns of environmental prion deposition and accumulation, and assessing consumption by susceptible animals. Identifying additional environmental reservoirs of CWD prions and determining the contributions of direct and indirect transmission over the course of CWD outbreaks represent key aims in advancing understanding of long-term CWD infection dynamics.


First evidence of intracranial and peroral transmission of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) into Cynomolgus macaques: a work in progress

Stefanie Czub1, Walter Schulz-Schaeffer2, Christiane Stahl-Hennig3, Michael Beekes4, Hermann Schaetzl5 and Dirk Motzkus6 1

University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine/Canadian Food Inspection Agency; 2Universitatsklinikum des Saarlandes und Medizinische Fakultat der Universitat des Saarlandes; 3 Deutsches Primaten Zentrum/Goettingen; 4 Robert-Koch-Institut Berlin; 5 University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine; 6 presently: Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Research Center; previously: Deutsches Primaten Zentrum/Goettingen

This is a progress report of a project which started in 2009. 21 cynomolgus macaques were challenged with characterized CWD material from white-tailed deer (WTD) or elk by intracerebral (ic), oral, and skin exposure routes. Additional blood transfusion experiments are supposed to assess the CWD contamination risk of human blood product. Challenge materials originated from symptomatic cervids for ic, skin scarification and partially per oral routes (WTD brain). Challenge material for feeding of muscle derived from preclinical WTD and from preclinical macaques for blood transfusion experiments. We have confirmed that the CWD challenge material contained at least two different CWD agents (brain material) as well as CWD prions in muscle-associated nerves.

Here we present first data on a group of animals either challenged ic with steel wires or per orally and sacrificed with incubation times ranging from 4.5 to 6.9 years at postmortem. Three animals displayed signs of mild clinical disease, including anxiety, apathy, ataxia and/or tremor. In four animals wasting was observed, two of those had confirmed diabetes. All animals have variable signs of prion neuropathology in spinal cords and brains and by supersensitive IHC, reaction was detected in spinal cord segments of all animals. Protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA), real-time quaking-induced conversion (RT-QuiC) and PET-blot assays to further substantiate these findings are on the way, as well as bioassays in bank voles and transgenic mice.

At present, a total of 10 animals are sacrificed and read-outs are ongoing. Preclinical incubation of the remaining macaques covers a range from 6.4 to 7.10 years. Based on the species barrier and an incubation time of > 5 years for BSE in macaques and about 10 years for scrapie in macaques, we expected an onset of clinical disease beyond 6 years post inoculation.







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