Tonsillar biopsy and PrPSc detection in the preclinical diagnosis of scrapie.
Preliminary findings have indicated that in naturally infected sheep, fully susceptible to scrapie (VRQ-homozygous), PrPSc can be detected in the tonsils approximately one year before the expected onset of clinical disease, whereas no immunostaining can be detected in animals with a semi-resistant genotype. This paper describes the technique for taking tonsillar biopsies from sheep. In another experiment PrPSc was detected even earlier in comparable VRQ-homozygous sheep born and raised in different surroundings. At three-and-a-half months of age no PrPSc could be detected in 3 homozygous susceptible sheep (VRQ/VRQ), but PrPSc was detected at 4 months in one similar sheep. At 8 months of age all 7 sampled VRQ/VRQ sheep showed positive immunostaining in the biopsies, but none of the biopsies from three VRQ/ARQ heterozygotes showed any immunostaining; they were positive when sampled at 14 to 15 months of age. Biopsies from VRQ/ARR sheep were negative throughout this period. On the basis of the established or expected incubation period, PrPSc could thus be detected in the tonsils of live susceptible animals at between one-third and a half of the incubation period, more than one-and-a-half years before clinical signs normally appear in both these genotypes.