To determine the transmissibility of transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) agent to raccoons and to provide information about clinical course, lesions, and suitability of currently used diagnostic procedures for detection of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in raccoons, 4 raccoon kits were inoculated intracerebrally with a brain suspension from mink experimentally infected with TME. One uninoculated raccoon kit served as a control. All 4 animals in the TME-inoculated group showed clinical signs of neurologic disorder and were euthanized between 21 and 23 weeks postinoculation (PI). Necropsy examinations revealed no gross lesions. Spongiform encephalopathy was observed by light microscopy, and the presence of protease-resistant prion protein (PrPres) was detected by immunohistochemistry and Western blot techniques. Scrapie-associated fibrils were observed by negative-stain electron microscopy in the brains of 3 of the 4 inoculated raccoons. These findings confirm that TME is experimentally transmissible to raccoons and that diagnostic techniques currently used for TSE in livestock detect prion protein in raccoon tissue. According to previously published data, the incubation period of sheep scrapie in raccoons is 2 years, whereas chronic wasting disease (CWD) had not shown transmission after 3 years of observation. Because incubation periods for the 3 US TSEs (scrapie, TME, and CWD) in raccoons appear to be markedly different, it may be possible to use raccoons for differentiating unknown TSE agents. Retrospective genotyping of raccoons using frozen spleens showed that the raccoon PrP gene is identical to the mink gene at codons 179 and 224. Further studies, such as the incubation periods of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and other isolates of scrapie, CWD, and TME in raccoons, are needed before the model can be further characterized for differentiation of TSE agents.
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