Transmission of scrapie by steel-surface-bound prions

Mol Med. 2001 Oct;7(10):679-84.


Background: Prions are unusually resistant to conventional disinfection procedures. An electrode used intracerebrally on a Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) patient transmitted the disease to two patients in succession and finally to a chimpanzee, despite attempted disinfection. Concerns that surgical instruments may transmit variant CJD have been raised by the finding of PrP(Sc), a surrogate marker for infectivity, in various tissues other than brain.

Materials and methods: Stainless steel wire was exposed to scrapie-infected brain or brain homogenate, washed exhaustively and inserted into the brain of indicator mice to measure infectivity.

Results: A contact time of 5 min with scrapie-infected mouse brain suffices to render steel wire highly infectious and insertion of infectious wire into the brain of an indicator mouse for 30 min suffices to cause disease. Infectivity bound to wires persists far longer in the brain than when injected as homogenate, which can explain the extraordinary efficiency of wire-mediated infection. No detectable amounts of PrP could be eluted with NaOH, however the presence of PrP on infectious wires was demonstrated by chemiluminescence. Several recommended sterilisation procedures inactivated wire-bound mouse prions, but exposure to 10% formaldehyde was insufficient.

Conclusions: Prions are readily and tightly bound to stainless steel surfaces and can transmit scrapie to recipient mice after short exposure times. This system mimics contaminated surgical instruments and will allow an assessment of sterilisation procedures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / virology*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Mice
  • PrPSc Proteins / metabolism
  • PrPSc Proteins / pathogenicity*
  • Protein Binding
  • Scrapie / transmission*
  • Stainless Steel*


  • PrPSc Proteins
  • Stainless Steel