Current understanding of PrnP Genetics: A tool for Molecular Assisted Selection in Sheep Populations (A review)

Viorica Cosier, Stelian Daraban


Scrapie is a neurodegenerative prion disease of sheep, goats and mouflons, belonging to the group of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which affects humans as well. Even though classical scrapie has been known for over 250 years, the 1985 BSE crisis related to the advent of new forms of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans imposed the implementation of rapid coercive legal measures of prevention, control and eradication of TSEs. According to the prion hypothesis, the transmissible agent is the pathological isoform (PrPSc) of cellular prion protein (PrPC). Specific polymorphisms of the gene that encodes cell prion protein (PrnP) in sheep have been associated with resistance / natural susceptibility to the development and progression of the disease. Combinations of alleles at three adjacent codons (136 [A/V], 154 [H/R], 171 [H/Q/R]) underpin the classification of 15 possible genotypes in risk classes, applicable in selection schemes where the maximum resistance is conferred by ARR allele, and the minimum by the VRQ allele. Although, after applying these programmes, the genetic structure of sheep populations has changed favourably, genotype association studies showed that no genotype is completely resistant to the infection, including homozygote ARR / ARR. With the discovery of atypical scrapie (Nor98), it became evident that the connection between the genetics of prion protein gene polymorphisms and susceptibility to the disease must be re-evaluated individually for each breed. In scrapie monitoring and control programmes, three diagnostic categories of the disease are observed: classical scrapie, atypical scrapie and BSE scrapie in small ruminant. This review shows the chronology of progress in the fight for the eradication of TSEs in sheep, 30 years after the BSE epidemic outburst, focusing especially on the link between the molecular diagnostic forms and the genetics of the disease.



TSEs, prion diseases, scrapie, PrnP polymorphism, PrP,

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