Experimental infection of transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) in two closely related mustelids, black ferret (Mustela putorius furo) and mink (Mustela visa), revealed differences in their susceptibility to the TME agent. When challenged with the Stetsonville TME agent, a longer incubation period was observed in ferrets (28 to 38 months) than mink (4 months). Western blot analysis of ferret and mink prion proteins (PrP) demonstrated no detectable differences between the proteins. Northern blot analysis of ferret brain RNA indicated that PrP mRNA abundance is similar in infected and uninfected individuals. We amplified the PrP coding region from ferret DNA using the polymerase chain reaction and compared the deduced amino acid sequence of the ferret PrP gene with the mink PrP gene. This comparison revealed six silent base changes and two amino acid changes between mink and ferret: Phe → Lys at codon 179 and Arg → Gln at codon 224, respectively. These changes may indicate the region of PrP that is responsible for the species barrier effect between mink and ferret.
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