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Biomedical Sciences, Neuroscience

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Veterinary Pathology





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Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are a group of diseases that result in progressive and invariably fatal neurologic disease in both animals and humans. TSEs are characterized by the accumulation of an abnormal protease-resistant form of the prion protein in the central nervous system. Transmission of infectious TSEs is believed to occur via ingestion of prion protein–contaminated material. This material is also involved in the transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (“mad cow disease”) to humans, which resulted in the variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Abnormal prion protein has been reported in the retina of TSE-affected cattle, but despite these observations, the specific effect of abnormal prion protein on retinal morphology and function has not been assessed. The objective of this study was to identify and characterize potential functional and morphologic abnormalities in the retinas of cattle infected with a bovine-adapted isolate of transmissible mink encephalopathy. We used electroretinography and immunohistochemistry to examine retinas from 10 noninoculated and 5 transmissible mink encephalopathy–inoculated adult Holstein steers. Here we show altered retinal function, as evidenced by prolonged implicit time of the electroretinogram b-wave, in transmissible mink encephalopathy–infected cattle before the onset of clinical illness. We also demonstrate disruption of rod bipolar cell synaptic terminals, indicated by decreased immunoreactivity for the alpha isoform of protein kinase C and vesicular glutamate transporter 1, and activation of Müller glia, as evidenced by increased glial fibrillary acidic protein and glutamine synthetase expression, in the retinas of these cattle at the time of euthanasia due to clinical deterioration. This is the first study to identify both functional and morphologic alterations in the retinas of TSE-infected cattle. Our results support future efforts to focus on the retina for the development of new strategies for the diagnosis of TSEs.


This article is published as Smith, J. D., J. J. Greenlee, A. N. Hamir, J. A. Richt, and MH West Greenlee. "Retinal function and morphology are altered in cattle infected with the prion disease transmissible mink encephalopathy." Veterinary pathology 46, no. 5 (2009): 810-816. doi: 10.1354/vp.08-VP-0206-W-FL. Posted with permission.


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