This is a final report of an experimental transmission of sheep scrapie agent by intracerebral inoculation to Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni). It documents results obtained in experimental (n = 6) and control (n = 2) elk. During the first 2 years postinoculation (PI), 3 animals died or were euthanized because of infection or injuries other than spongiform encephalopathy (SE). In years 3 and 4 PI, 3 other inoculated elk died after brief terminal neurological episodes. Necropsy of these animals revealed moderate weight loss but no other gross lesions. Microscopically, characteristic lesions of SE were seen throughout the brain and spinal cord, and the tissue was positive for proteinase K-resistant prion protein (PrPres) by immunohistochemistry (IHC) and by Western blot. Scrapie-associated fibrils (SAF) were observed by negative-stain electron microscopy in the brain of elk with neurologic signs. PrPres and SAF were not detected in the 3 inoculated elk necropsied during the first 2 years or in the 2 control animals. Retrospective analysis of the gene-encoding cervid PrP revealed a polymorphism at codon 132. The elk with SE were either homozygous (MM) or heterozygous (LM). These findings confirm that intracerebral inoculation of sheep scrapie agent results in SE with accumulations of PrPres in the central nervous system of elk. Based on morphologic and IHC findings, the experimentally induced SE cannot be distinguished from chronic wasting disease of elk with currently available diagnostic techniques.
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