In chronic wasting disease (CWD) in cervids and in scrapie in sheep, prions appear to be transmitted horizontally. Oral exposure to prion-tainted blood, urine, saliva, and feces has been suggested as the mode of transmission of CWD and scrapie among herbivores susceptible to these prion diseases. To explore the transmission of prions through feces, uninoculated Syrian hamsters (SHas) were cohabitated with or exposed to the bedding of SHas orally infected with Sc237 prions. Incubation times of 140 days and a rate of prion infection of 80%-100% among exposed animals suggested transmission by feces, probably via coprophagy. We measured the disease-causing isoform of the prion protein (PrP(Sc)) in feces by use of the conformation-dependent immunoassay, and we titrated the irradiated feces intracerebrally in transgenic mice that overexpressed SHa prion protein (SHaPrP). Fecal samples collected from infected SHas in the first 7 days after oral challenge harbored 60 ng/g PrP(Sc) and prion titers of approximately 10(6.6) ID(50)/g. Excretion of infectious prions continued at lower levels throughout the asymptomatic phase of the incubation period, most likely by the shedding of prions from infected Peyer patches. Our findings suggest that horizontal transmission of disease among herbivores may occur through the consumption of feces or foodstuff tainted with prions from feces of CWD-infected cervids and scrapie-infected sheep.
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