Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are fatal neurodegenerative disorders which are linked to abnormal isoforms of the prion protein (PrP), which is expressed in different cells of various mammalian species. Susceptibility to disease and reduced transmission rates upon the first passage to another species are thought to be a result of functional and biochemical differences of the PrP as a consequence of amino acid sequence among species. In 1985 an epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) started after accidential transmission of scrapie by feeding infected sheep and goat meat and bone meal products to cattle. In this report we present data demonstrating speciesspecific epitopes in bovine, ovine and murine PrP that are based on amino acid substitutions at positions 108 and 110. Rabbit antisera to synthetic peptides representing amino acid sequence 108 to 123 of PrP of cattle, sheep and mice reacted strongly with modified PrP of the homologous host but not, or only poorly, with PrP of heterogeneous origin. Cross-reactivity was observed, however, with antisera to bovine and ovine peptide sequences 102 to 117, thus stressing the importance of the location of the amino acid substitution in synthetic peptides used for immunization. Based on these data, BSE PrP and ovine and murine scrapie PrP can be distinguished from each other, and these differences might help elucidate the species barrier effect.


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