There are many distinct strains of scrapie agent, identified by their relative incubation periods and quantitative and qualitative neuropathological properties in inbred mice of particular genotypes. When serially passaged under specified conditions of mouse strain, route of infection and dose of infectivity these properties are stable. However, they may change in a predictable manner if the passage strategy is altered. The scrapie strain 87A shows what has previously been defined as Class III stability; it is stable when passaged at low dose in C57BL mice, but often suddenly changes its properties in the course of a single passage if high doses are used, always resulting in the same new strain. The latter, designated 7D, has shorter incubation periods and more extensive pathology than 87A, properties which are subsequently stable on serial passage even at high dose. This phenomenon has been seen repeatedly using scrapie isolates from six different natural cases in five different breeds of sheep. These isolates are closely similar in all their properties, showing them to be independent isolations of the 87A strain; there have been no isolations of 87A in which the phenomenon did not occur. On the other hand, none of the many other scrapie strains used in the same laboratory have shown this change. 87A brain samples consistently behave as if they contain 87A together with a smaller amount of 7D. This is so even after 87A has previously been passaged at high dilution, well beyond the limiting dilution for 7D, a procedure which would eliminate any minor agent strain originally present in the isolate. Therefore it is highly likely that the 7D in tissues of mice infected with 87A is generated at each passage by mutational change from 87A during the incubation period. The established fact that many different strains exist and the considerable evidence that mutation can occur lead to the conclusion that scrapie agent has its own independently replicating genome.


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