University of Alberta: Protein variant prevents transmission of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer

A variant of the prion protein may reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) among white-tailed deer, according to a new study by University of Alberta scientists.

This variant of the prion protein, called the S96 variant, blocks CWD transmission in the lab—an important discovery in the fight against the highly contagious neurological disease.

“This discovery is important because it suggests that there is at least one genetic variation in the prion protein that would block CWD transmission in white-tailed deer,” said Debbie McKenzie, professor of biological sciences in the Faculty of Science.

“There are currently no methods available, other than removal of deer from the landscape, to stop or slow the spread of CWD. The S96 protein is a potential tool for decreasing the spread of the disease.”

CWD is a neurological disease, similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, that affects mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, elk and caribou in North America. CWD causes degeneration of brain tissue and is fatal. It is the only disease of its kind found in wild animal populations.

“This is an exciting finding, providing a biochemical mechanism for what has been suspected from surveys of deer populations: that the prion protein gene variant, the 96 allele, confers a significant level of protection from CWD infection. This will be an important tool to slow or stop the spread of this inevitably fatal brain disease,” said study co-author Judd Aiken, professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.