Chronic wasting disease

Vet Pathol. 2005 Sep;42(5):530-49. doi: 10.1354/vp.42-5-530.


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a unique transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), white-tailed deer (O. virginianus), and Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni). The natural history of CWD is incompletely understood, but it differs from scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) by virtue of its occurrence in nondomestic and free-ranging species. CWD has many features in common with scrapie, including early widespread distribution of disease-associated prion protein (PrP(d)) in lymphoid tissues, with later involvement of central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral tissues. This distribution likely contributes to apparent efficiency of horizontal transmission and, in this, is similar to scrapie and differs from BSE. Clinical features and lesions of CWD are qualitatively similar to the other animal TSEs. Microscopically, marked spongiform lesions occur in the central nervous system (CNS) after a prolonged incubation period and variable course of clinical disease. During incubation, PrP(d) can be identified in tissues by antibody-based detection systems. Although CWD can be transmitted by intracerebral inoculation to cattle, sheep, and goats, ongoing studies have not demonstrated that domestic livestock are susceptible via oral exposure, the presumed natural route of exposure to TSEs. Surveillance efforts for CWD in captive and free-ranging cervids will continue in concert with similar activities for scrapie and BSE. Eradication of CWD in farmed cervids is the goal of state, federal, and industry programs, but eradication of CWD from free-ranging populations of cervids is unlikely with currently available management techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Deer
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Wasting Disease, Chronic* / diagnosis
  • Wasting Disease, Chronic* / epidemiology
  • Wasting Disease, Chronic* / physiopathology
  • Wasting Disease, Chronic* / transmission