Transmission of prion diseases by blood transfusion

J Gen Virol. 2002 Nov;83(Pt 11):2897-2905. doi: 10.1099/0022-1317-83-11-2897.


Attempts to detect infectivity in the blood of humans and animals affected with transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs or prion diseases) have often been inconclusive because of the limitations of cross-species bioassays and the small volumes of blood that can be injected by the intracerebral route. A model has been developed for the experimental study of TSE transmission by blood transfusion using sheep experimentally infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or natural scrapie as donors and susceptible scrapie-free sheep as recipients. Donors and recipients of the same species greatly increase the sensitivity of the bioassay and in sheep large volumes of blood can be injected by the intravenous (i.v.) route. Transmission of BSE to a single animal using this approach was reported recently. This study confirms this result with a second transmission of BSE and four new cases of transmission of natural scrapie. Positive transmissions occurred with blood taken at pre-clinical and clinical stages of infection. Initial studies indicate that following such infection by the i.v. route, deposition of the abnormal prion protein isoform, PrP(Sc), in peripheral tissues may be much more limited than is seen following oral infection. These results confirm the risks of TSE infection via blood products and suggest that the measures taken to restrict the use of blood in the UK have been fully justified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • PrPSc Proteins / analysis
  • Prion Diseases / blood
  • Prion Diseases / etiology
  • Prion Diseases / transmission*
  • Sheep
  • Transfusion Reaction*


  • PrPSc Proteins