Enzyme activities associated with the neurotransmitter pathways in nerve growth factor-treated, 139A scrapie strain-infected PC12 cells were examined. Since these cells show no morphological alterations during the time of agent replication, any scrapie-induced effects would have to be associated with non-vital cellular functions. When compared to controls, infection with the 139A scrapie strain resulted in decreased activity of the cholinergic pathway-related enzymes, choline acetyltransferase and acetylcholinesterase. However, the adrenergic pathway was unaffected by scrapie infection as evidenced by unaltered tyrosine hydroxylase activity, the putative rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of catecholamines. The effects of the 139A scrapie strain on the cholinergic system appeared to be dose-dependent and were first detected prior to the detection of scrapie agent replication in these cells. Furthermore, the altered enzymic activities observed were not the result of contaminating material in the scrapie brain homogenate because similar results were obtained when partially purified scrapie preparations were used as the inoculum. These scrapie agent-induced alterations in specific neuronal properties suggest a mechanism for the clinical manifestations observed in scrapie and perhaps other related central nervous system disorders.


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