Concerns have been raised about the possibility that the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) agent could have been transmitted to sheep populations via contaminated feedstuffs. The objective of our study was to investigate the suitability of molecular strain typing methods as a surveillance tool for studying scrapie strain variations and for differentiating PrP(Sc) from sheep scrapie, BSE, and sheep BSE. We studied 38 Italian sheep scrapie cases from 13 outbreaks, along with a British scrapie case, an experimental ovine BSE, and 3 BSE cases, by analyzing the glycoform patterns and the apparent molecular masses of the nonglycosylated forms of semipurified, proteinase-treated PrP(Sc). Both criteria were able to clearly differentiate sheep scrapie from BSE and ovine experimental BSE. PrP(Sc) from BSE and sheep BSE showed a higher glycoform ratio and a lower molecular mass of the nonglycosylated form compared to scrapie PrP(Sc). Scrapie cases displayed homogeneous PrP(Sc) features regardless of breed, flock, and geographic origin. The glycoform patterns observed varied with the antibody used, but either a monoclonal antibody (MAb) (F99/97.6.1) or a polyclonal antibody (P7-7) was able to distinguish scrapie from BSE PrP(Sc). While more extensive surveys are needed to further corroborate these findings, our results suggest that large-scale molecular screening of sheep populations for BSE surveillance may be eventually possible
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