Incomplete inactivation of atypical scrapie following recommended autoclave decontamination procedures.
Prions are highly resistant to the decontamination procedures normally used to inactivate conventional pathogens. This is a challenging problem not only in the medical and veterinary fields for minimizing the risk of transmission from potentially infective sources but also for ensuring the safe disposal or subsequent use of animal by-products. Specific pressure autoclaving protocols were developed for this purpose, but different strains of prions have been reported to have differing resistance patterns to established prion decontamination procedures, and as additional TSE strains are identified it is necessary to determine the effectiveness of such procedures. In this study we assessed the efficacy of sterilization using the EU recommended autoclave procedure for prions (133°C, 3 Bar for 20 min) on the atypical or Nor98 (AS/Nor98) scrapie strain of sheep and goats. Using a highly sensitive murine mouse model (tg338) that overexpresses ovine PrPC, we determined that this method of decontamination reduced the infectivity titre by 1010. Infectivity was nonetheless still detected after applying the recommended autoclaving protocol. This shows that AS/Nor98 can survive the designated legislative decontamination conditions, albeit with a significant decrease in titre. The infectivity of a classical scrapie isolate subjected to the same decontamination conditions was reduced by 106 suggesting that the AS/Nor98 isolate is less sensitive to decontamination than the classical scrapie source.