Rabbits are not resistant to prion infection

Francesca Chianini, Natalia Fernández-Borges, Enric Vidal, Louise Gibbard, Belén Pintado, Jorge De Castro, Suzette A. Priola, Scott Hamilton, Samantha L. Eaton, Jeanie Finlayson, Yvonne Pang, Philip Steele, Hugh W. Reid, Mark P. Dagleish, Joaquín Castilla

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    58 Citations (Scopus)


    The ability of prions to infect some species and not others is determined by the transmission barrier. This unexplained phenomenon has led to the belief that certain species were not susceptible to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) and therefore represented negligible risk to human health if consumed. Using the protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) technique, we were able to overcome the species barrier in rabbits, which have been classified as TSE resistant for four decades. Rabbit brain homogenate, either unseeded or seeded in vitro with disease-related prions obtained from different species, was subjected to serial rounds of PMCA. De novo rabbit prions produced in vitro from unseeded material were tested for infectivity in rabbits, with one of three intracerebrally challenged animals succumbing to disease at 766 d and displaying all of the characteristics of a TSE, thereby demonstrating that leporids are not resistant to prion infection. Material from the brain of the clinically affected rabbit containing abnormal prion protein resulted in a 100% attack rate after its inoculation in transgenic mice overexpressing rabbit PrP. Transmissibility to rabbits (>470 d) has been confirmed in 2 of 10 rabbits after intracerebral challenge. Despite rabbits no longer being able to be classified as resistant to TSEs, an outbreak of "mad rabbit disease" is unlikely.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5080-5085
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number13
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2012


    • In vitro replication
    • Scrapie
    • Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy


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