A new model for sensitive detection of zoonotic prions by PrP transgenic Drosophila.
Prions are transmissible protein pathogens most reliably detected by a bioassay in a suitable host, typically mice. However, the mouse bioassay is slow and cumbersome, and relatively insensitive to low titers of prion infectivity. Prions can be detected biochemically in vitro by the protein misfolding cyclic amplification (PMCA) technique, which amplifies disease-associated prion protein but does not detect bona fide prion infectivity. Here, we demonstrate that Drosophila transgenic for bovine prion protein (PrP) expression can serve as a model system for the detection of bovine prions significantly more efficiently than either the mouse prion bioassay or PMCA. Strikingly, bovine PrP transgenic Drosophila could detect bovine prion infectivity in the region of a 10-12 dilution of classical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) inoculum, which is 106-fold more sensitive than that achieved by the bovine PrP mouse bioassay. A similar level of sensitivity was observed in the detection of H-type and L-type atypical BSE and sheep-passaged BSE by bovine PrP transgenic Drosophila. Bioassays of bovine prions in Drosophila were performed within 7 weeks, whereas the mouse prion bioassay required at least a year to assess the same inoculum. In addition, bovine PrP transgenic Drosophila could detect classical BSE at a level 105-fold lower than that achieved by PMCA. These data show that PrP transgenic Drosophila represent a new tractable prion bioassay for the efficient and sensitive detection of mammalian prions, including those of known zoonotic potential.