Molecular characterisation of atypical BSE prions by mass spectrometry and changes following transmission to sheep and transgenic mouse models.
The prion hypothesis proposes a causal relationship between the misfolded prion protein (PrPSc) molecular entity and the disease transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Variations in the conformation of PrPSc are associated with different forms of TSE and different risks to animal and human health. Since the discovery of atypical forms of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003, scientists have progressed the molecular characterisation of the associated PrPSc in order to better understand these risks, both in cattle as the natural host and following experimental transmission to other species. Here we report the development of a mass spectrometry based assay for molecular characterisation of bovine proteinase K (PK) treated PrPSc (PrPres) by quantitative identification of its N-terminal amino acid profiles (N-TAAPs) and tryptic peptides. We have applied the assay to classical, H-type and L-type BSE prions purified from cattle, transgenic (Tg) mice expressing the bovine (Tg110 and Tg1896) or ovine (TgEM16) prion protein gene, and sheep brain. We determined that, for classical BSE in cattle, the G96 N-terminal cleavage site dominated, while the range of cleavage sites was wider following transmission to Tg mice and sheep. For L-BSE in cattle and Tg bovinised mice, a C-terminal shift was identified in the N-TAAP distribution compared to classical BSE, consistent with observations by Western blot (WB). For L-BSE transmitted to sheep, both N-TAAP and tryptic peptide profiles were found to be changed compared to cattle, but less so following transmission to Tg ovinised mice. Relative abundances of aglycosyl peptides were found to be significantly different between the atypical BSE forms in cattle as well as in other hosts. The enhanced resolution provided by molecular analysis of PrPres using mass spectrometry has improved insight into the molecular changes following transmission of atypical BSE to other species.