Prion sorption to soil is thought to play an important role in the transmission of scrapie and chronic wasting disease (CWD) via the environment. Sorption of PrP to soil and soil minerals is influenced by the strain and species of PrP Sc and by soil characteristics. However, the ability of soil-bound prions to convert PrP c to PrP Sc under these wide-ranging conditions remains poorly understood. We developed a semiquantitative protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) protocol to evaluate replication efficiency of soil-bound prions. Binding of the hyper (HY) strain of transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) (hamster) prions to a silty clay loam soil yielded a greater-than-1-log decrease in PMCA replication efficiency with a corresponding 1.3-log reduction in titer. The increased binding of PrP Sc to soil over time corresponded with a decrease in PMCA replication efficiency. The PMCA efficiency of bound prions varied with soil type, where prions bound to clay and organic surfaces exhibited significantly lower replication efficiencies while prions bound to sand exhibited no apparent difference in replication efficiency compared to unbound controls. PMCA results from hamster and CWD agent-infected elk prions yielded similar findings. Given that PrP Sc adsorption affinity varies with soil type, the overall balance between prion adsorption affinity and replication efficiency for the dominant soil types of an area may be a significant determinant in the environmental transmission of prion diseases.
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