Prion infection and pathogenesis are dependent on the agent crossing an epithelial barrier to gain access to the recipient nervous system. Several routes of infection have been identified, but the mechanism(s) and timing of in vivo prion transport across an epithelium have not been determined. The hamster model of nasal cavity infection was used to determine the temporal and spatial parameters of prion-infected brain homogenate uptake following inhalation and to test the hypothesis that prions cross the nasal mucosa viaMcells. A small drop of infected or uninfected brain homogenate was placed below each nostril, where it was immediately inhaled into the nasal cavity. Regularly spaced tissue sections through the entire extent of the nasal cavity were processed immunohistochemically to identify brain homogenate and the disease-associated isoform of the prion protein (PrPd). Infected or uninfected brain homogenate was identified adhering toMcells, passing between cells of the nasal mucosa, and within lymphatic vessels of the nasal cavity at all time points examined. PrPd was identified within a limited number ofMcells 15 to 180 min following inoculation, but not in the adjacent nasal mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (NALT). While these results supportMcell transport of prions, larger amounts of infected brain homogenate were transported paracellularly across the respiratory, olfactory, and follicle-associated epithelia of the nasal cavity. These results indicate that prions can immediately cross the nasal mucosa via multiple routes and quickly enter lymphatics, where they can spread systemically via lymph draining the nasal cavity.
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