Transmission of chronic wasting disease identifies a prion strain causing cachexia and heart infection in hamsters

Richard A. Bessen, Cameron J. Robinson, Davis M. Seelig, Christopher P. Watschke, Diana Lowe, Harold Shearin, Scott Martinka, Alex M. Babcock

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16 Scopus citations


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an emerging prion disease of free-ranging and captive cervids in North America. In this study we established a rodent model for CWD in Syrian golden hamsters that resemble key features of the disease in cervids including cachexia and infection of cardiac muscle. Following one to three serial passages of CWD from white-tailed deer into transgenic mice expressing the hamster prion protein gene, CWD was subsequently passaged into Syrian golden hamsters. In one passage line there were preclinical changes in locomotor activity and a loss of body mass prior to onset of subtle neurological symptoms around 340 days. The clinical symptoms included a prominent wasting disease, similar to cachexia, with a prolonged duration. Other features of CWD in hamsters that were similar to cervid CWD included the brain distribution of the disease-specific isoform of the prion protein, PrP Sc, prion infection of the central and peripheral neuroendocrine system, and PrP Sc deposition in cardiac muscle. There was also prominent PrP Sc deposition in the nasal mucosa on the edge of the olfactory sensory epithelium with the lumen of the nasal airway that could have implications for CWD shedding into nasal secretions and disease transmission. Since the mechanism of wasting disease in prion diseases is unknown this hamster CWD model could provide a means to investigate the physiological basis of cachexia, which we propose is due to a prion-induced endocrinopathy. This prion disease phenotype has not been described in hamsters and we designate it as the 'wasting' or WST strain of hamster CWD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere28026
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2011


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