Prion disease is transmissible and invariably fatal. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is the prion disease affecting deer, elk and moose, and it is a widespread and expanding epidemic affecting 22 US States and 2 Canadian provinces so far. CWD poses the most serious zoonotic prion transmission risks in North America because of huge venison consumption (>6 million deer/elk hunted and consumed annually in the USA alone), significant prion infectivity in muscles and other tissues/fluids from CWD-affected cervids, and usually high levels of individual exposure to CWD resulting from consumption of the affected animal among often just family and friends. However, we still do not know whether CWD prions can infect humans in the brain or peripheral tissues or whether clinical/asymptomatic CWD zoonosis has already occurred, and we have no essays to reliably detect CWD infection in humans. We hypothesize that: (1) The classic CWD prion strain can infect humans at low levels in the brain and peripheral lymphoid tissues; (2) The cervid-to-human transmission barrier is dependent on the cervid prion strain and influenced by the host (human) prion protein (PrP) primary sequence; (3) Reliable essays can be established to detect CWD infection in humans; and (4) CWD transmission to humans has already occurred. We will test these hypotheses in 4 Aims using transgenic (Tg) mouse models and complementary in vitro approaches.
Aim 1 will prove that the classical CWD strain may infect humans in brain or peripheral lymphoid tissues at low levels by conducting systemic bioassays in a set of humanized Tg mouse lines expressing common human PrP variants using a number of CWD isolates at varying doses and routes. Experimental human CWD samples will also be generated for Aim 3.
Aim 2 will test the hypothesis that the cervid-to-human prion transmission barrier is dependent on prion strain and influenced by the host (human) PrP sequence by examining and comparing the transmission efficiency and phenotypes of several atypical/unusual CWD isolates/strains as well as a few prion strains from other species that have adapted to cervid PrP sequence, utilizing the same panel of humanized Tg mouse lines as in Aim 1.
Aim 3 will establish reliable essays for detection and surveillance of CWD infection in humans by examining in details the clinical, pathological, biochemical and in vitro seeding properties of existing and future experimental human CWD samples generated from Aims 1-2 and compare them with those of common sporadic human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD) prions.
Aim 4 will attempt to detect clinical CWD-affected human cases by examining a significant number of brain samples from prion-affected human subjects in the USA and Canada who have consumed venison from CWD-endemic areas utilizing the criteria and essays established in Aim 3. The findings from this proposal will greatly advance our understandings on the potential and characteristics of cervid prion transmission in humans, establish reliable essays for CWD zoonosis and potentially discover the first case(s) of CWD infection in humans.
There are significant and increasing human exposure to cervid prions because chronic wasting disease (CWD, a widespread and highly infectious prion disease among deer and elk in North America) continues spreading and consumption of venison remains popular, but our understanding on cervid-to-human prion transmission is still very limited, raising public health concerns. This proposal aims to define the zoonotic risks of cervid prions and set up and apply essays to detect CWD zoonosis using mouse models and in vitro methods. The findings will greatly expand our knowledge on the potentials and characteristics of cervid prion transmission in humans, establish reliable essays for such infections and may discover the first case(s) of CWD infection in humans.