Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a member of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), was first identified in captive mule and black-tail deer in 1967. Due to the failure to transmit CWD to rodents, we investigated the use of ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) as a small animal model of CWD. The inoculation of CWD into ferrets resulted in an incubation Period of 17- 21 months on primary passage that shortened to 5 months by the third ferret passage. The brain tissue of animals inoculated with ferret-passaged CWD exhibited spongiform degeneration and reactive astrocytosis. Western blot analysis of ferret-passaged CWD demonstrated the presence of PrP-res. Unlike mule deer CWD, ferret-passaged CWD was transmissible to Syrian golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Increasing the passage number of CWD in ferrets increased the pathogenicity of the agent for hamsters. This increase in host range of a field isolate on interspecies transmission emphasizes the need for caution when assessing the potential risk of transmission of TSEs, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, to new host species.
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