The pathogenesis of scrapie and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) following oral uptake of agent is still poorly understood and can best be studied in mice and hamsters. The experiments described here further extend the understanding of the pathways along which infection spreads from the periphery to the brain after an oral challenge with scrapie. Using TSE-specific amyloid protein (TSE-AP, also called PrP) as a marker for infectivity, immunohistochemical evidence suggested that the first target area in the brain of hamsters orally infected with scrapie is the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (DMNV), rapidly followed by the commissural solitary tract nucleus (SN). The cervical spinal cord was affected only after TSE-AP had been deposited in the DMNV, SN and other medullary target areas. For the first time, these results demonstrate conclusively that, in our animal model, initial infection of the brain after oral ingestion of scrapie agent occurs via the vagus nerve, rather than by spread along the spinal cord.