Transmissions of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from seven unrelated cattle sources have given remarkably uniform disease characteristics in mice, differing from over twenty previous and contemporary transmissions of sheep and goat scrapie. Transmissions to mice of spongiform encephalopathy from six species (including sheep and goats) which have been experimentally or naturally infected with BSE have given similar results to direct BSE transmissions from cattle. Therefore the BSE agent has retained its identity when passaged through a range of species and the 'donor' species has little specific influence on disease characteristics in mice, adding to evidence for an agent-specific informational molecule. On transmission of BSE or scrapie to mice the incubation periods are long compared with subsequent mouse-to-mouse passages (the 'species barrier'). Contributing factors include a low efficiency of infection on interspecies transmission, the apparent failure of intracerebrally injected 'foreign' inoculum to establish infection directly in mouse brain and the selection of variant strains of agent which replicate most readily in the new host species.