Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) infectivity naturally spreads from site of entry in the periphery to the central nervous system where pathological lesions are formed. Several routes and cells within the host have been identified as important for facilitating the infectious process. Expression of the glycoprotein cellular PrP (PrPC) is considered a key factor for replication of infectivity in the central nervous system (CNS) and its transport to the brain, and it has been suggested that the infectious agent propagates from cell to cell via a domino-like effect. However, precisely how this is achieved and what involvement the different glycoforms of PrP have in these processes remain to be determined. To address this issue, we have used our unique models of gene-targeted transgenic mice expressing different glycosylated forms of PrP. Two TSE strains were inoculated intraperitoneally into these mice to assess the contribution of diglycosylated, monoglycosylated, and unglycosylated PrP in spreading of infectivity to the brain. This study demonstrates that glycosylation of host PrP has a profound effect in determining the outcome of disease. Lack of diglycosylated PrP slowed or prevented disease onset after peripheral challenge, suggesting an important role for fully glycosylated PrP in either the replication of the infectious agent in the periphery or its transport to the CNS. Moreover, mice expressing unglycosylated PrP did not develop clinical disease, and mice expressing monoglycosylated PrP showed strikingly different neuropathologic features compared to those expressing diglycosylated PrP. This demonstrates that targeting in the brain following peripheral inoculation is profoundly influenced by the glycosylation status of host PrP.
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